After his historic upset of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on Tuesday, economics professor Dave Brat (R) will now face his Randolph-Macon College colleague, sociology professor Jack Trammell (D) in the November general. While the gerrymandered district has a distinct Republican tilt, a few signs suggest that the race could potentially be competitive.
According to the Cook Political Report, Virginia’s 7th Congressional district is an “R+10″ area — meaning that it votes, on average, 10 points more Republican than the nation as a whole. Currently, just 3 of the 199 Democrats in the U.S. House represent districts more Republican leaning than that.
But a victory for Trammell in the 7th would not be unprecedented. In the 2008 U.S. Senate race, former Democratic governor Mark Warner defeated former Republican governor Jim Gilmore by about a 60 to 39 percent spread among voters in the district. While it has since been somewhat altered in the 2011 redistricting, the surrounding areas also voted for Warner in similar numbers.
What’s more, a couple of polls of the 7th indicate that on some issues, it may be well to the left of the Republican Brat. A PPP poll of registered voters released Tuesday found that 72 percent supported comprehensive immigration reform including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Even among self-identified Republicans, 70 percent back a path to citizenship and 58 percent consider reform “very important.” Brat’s primary campaign focused heavily on his opposition to “amnesty.”
Brat’s conservative views on social issues could also hurt him in the general. On his campaign website’s “protecting values” section, he vows to “protect the rights of the unborn and the sanctity of marriage,” and to “oppose any governmental intrusion upon the conscience of people of faith.” A 2012 poll of the district found 68 percent favored a candidate who supported reproductive rights, compared to 23 percent who preferred one who did not.
Trammell, who just got into the race this week, has not yet said much about his own views on these or other issues. A brief issues section on his page has been removed as of press time and made no mention of his positions on social issues or immigration reform.