Meet Dave Brat, an economics and ethics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, who has launched a long-shot bid to oust House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from his seat representing Virginia’s 7th Congressional District.
Brat, who admits that he has supported several Cantor candidacies over the years, says he mounted his improbable primary campaign because the House GOP’s No. 2 leader has lost touch with his constituents, “veering from the Republican creed.”
“Years ago he had a good conservative track record, but now he’s veered off,” Brat told ABC News during an interview on Capitol Hill. “If you go to Heritage and look at their score, I think he’s at about a 53 right now. I mean, that’s an F-minus.”
Heritage Action’s scorecard tracks Republican votes, co-sponsorships and other legislative activity to gauge how conservative members of Congress are performing. Cantor actually receives a 52 percent, which ranks seventh among eight Virginia House Republicans.
While a recent profile of the race in the Washington Post characterized Brat as “a potential threat,” the quirky challenger knows he has a tough road to victory in the June 10 primary.
“Most of these [primary] races don’t kick in until about 30 days prior,” he said. “Now everyone’s looking, what’s the race? It’s an open primary and it’s just Eric and I on the ticket.”
Brat, 49, isn’t the first primary challenger Cantor has faced. The Richmond Republican smoked primary challenger Floyd Bayne in 2012 by nearly 60 percentage points before cruising to a 17-point victory in the general election.
But with low primary turnout (just 47,000 voters turned out in the primary two years ago) and anti-incumbency fervor at an all-time high, Cantor’s team says they aren’t overlooking Brat, although they “don’t see him getting a great deal of traction.”
“We’re on the ground, running the campaign,” Cantor campaign spokesman and senior strategist Ray Allen said in a phone interview. “We take every figure seriously and do our own due diligence. It is what it is.”
Brat claims “the money is flowing in right now,” expanding an underwhelming campaign war chest that he last reported contained just $40,000.
“The race was once viewed as a long-shot, [but] it’s tightening now,” Brat said. “We’re well over double, triple what we had on the books just a month ago and so now we’re getting the national attention I always hoped.”
Brat complained that Cantor, 50, has a “crony-capitalist mentality” to take care of the corporate sector ahead of the interests of small businesses.
“On the conservative scorecard, on the free market votes, he’s doing everything wrong,” Brat said. “He’s not following what folks in his district want him to do and it’s hurting the country.”
Allen described Brat as “a weird duck” and criticized him for serving on then-Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine’s Joint Advisory Board of Economists.
“Eric Cantor is a conservative leader,” Allen, who has advised Cantor’s campaigns since 1991, said. “[Brat] doesn’t like being called a liberal college professor, but that’s what he is and what he’s always been. Tea Party conservatives don’t serve as an economic adviser to Tim Kaine.”
Brat calls himself as a “free market guy,” and says he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He also pledged never to increase taxes and to stick to a five-year promise not to vote to increase the debt limit.
“This isn’t a personal race. I’m not running against Eric,” he stressed. “I’m just running on the founding principles that Adam Smith and free markets – they made us the greatest nation on the Earth. All right? It’s no mystery. Our rights, tradition, along with free markets and the Judeo-Christian tradition all together made us the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. I think we’re veering off course a little bit there and I want to get us back on that course that brought us to greatness.”
If Brat ultimately wins the primary and is seated in the 114th Congress, he would not commit his vote for speaker to House Speaker John Boehner, but offered his support to any contender who’s “more free market and more fiscally responsible.”
“I’d have to take a good look at what they’re doing but I support people who follow the Republican creed, and so it doesn’t look like the leadership is doing a good job on that right now,” Brat said.
“They’re not free market at all, right? They do not take free market seriously and they’re off on fiscal responsibility.”