HENRICO, VIRGINIA — Ebonie Atkins, 36, a resident of Virginia’s Henrico County, will be voting for Democrat Abigail Spanberger over Tea Party incumbent Dave Brat (R) on Tuesday.
And like a lot of voters in this Republican stronghold, she’ll be watching closely on election night to see if Spanberger makes history by becoming the first Democrat to represent this central Virginia seat since 1968 — a half-century ago.
“I know it’s a tight race, and I just really want to see some change and see a different face and a different perspective in Washington,” Atkins said.
In her opinion, Spanberger is that face — a very different in person from the one caricatured in television attack ads. To Atkins, such ads are “what politics has become today,” where people “try to find whatever dirt they can, and make it as dramatic as possible.”
Former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon was in the 7th District one day earlier, calling it “an absolute bellwether of the entire country” and urging Republicans, “you have to hold the line.”
“I think he’s just one of Trump’s henchmen, and he’s all about capitalism, just making a dollar off of the American people.”
For Atkins, who says she plans to vote first thing on Tuesday with her young son in tow, the election, is about much more.
“For me it is about poverty, and creating generational wealth for African Americans who are just, because of the way this country was built, are systemically oppressed and are just starting 10 steps behind everyone else,” Atkins said.
“So, we need some radical change to really level the playing field for folks who may do all the right things and just can’t get ahead.”
Is Spanberger up to the task of helping bring about that change? Atkins said her role as a voter and constituent in pressing for change doesn’t end once she casts her ballot on Tuesday. “We really have to stay engaged,” Atkins said.
“It’s not just about giving them a seat in Congress, but how are we really holding their feet to the fire so that they don’t forget about the folks who got them in office. I think thats really important with the black vote. People are conscious that the black vote matters, but once you get that vote, what are you doing to help those who actually got you there?”
Atkins said Spanberger needs to address affordable housing, student loan debt, and economic access. Brat’s vote on the tax cut bill goes part and parcel with that. “It’s all about helping the one percent, helping folks who don’t need the help, and I’m sick of seeing that,” she said.
In a parking lot interview with ThinkProgress, Spanberger addressed those concerns head-on. Her top priorities should she win and the Democrats take back the House of course include health care, broadband internet infrastructure, comprehensive immigration reform, and getting the budget back on track. But at the top of her mind was good governance and restoring people’s trust in elected representatives.
“I’m a strong believer that we need to push a reform and good governance agenda because one of the most clear-as-a-bell lessons I have learned across the last 15 months on the campaign trail is that voters just don’t trust elected officials on a really foundational level,” Spanberger told ThinkProgress. “So I think that’s an area where we can really have bipartisan cooperation, and I think it’s foundational to moving back to a place where people believe that their government is working for them, and even when they disagree with this policy or that policy, they don’t necessarily doubt at the most foundational level whether or not policymakers are working with their perceived best interests.”
Brat hopes to be joined on Capitol Hill by Republican Senate candidate Cory Stewart, who has been dragging down the GOP ticket with a long history of racist actions and statements that makes him a non-starter for voters like Atkins.
“I think Cory Stewart is so … I just have hope that he won’t win,” Atkins said. “I hope people see that he supports racism and things that challenge the equality of all in this country.”
Brat’s rhetoric and approach to governance is even is pushing dyed-in-the-wool Republicans to Spanberger.
“I’m not a former Republican, I’m a registered Republican,” said Tom Kasper, as he tucked into a plate of barbecue at Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue at a campaign event for Spanberger this weekend, as the candidate buzzed around shaking hands nearby.
George Allen was the last Virginia Republican who received his support, although he noted that Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was an old college girlfriend.
“Dave Brat is one of the Tea Partiers, and I want to understand how deficits were bad under Obama but they were good under Republicans. I want to hear that line, and I haven’t heard him talk about that very well.”
Kasper also described a constituent services experience he’d had with Brat’s office, as “probably the worst on I ever had in terms of sheer, complete incompetence.
At the end of the day, a member of Congress is supposed to be available to his constituents, and Brat might be the worst member of Congress in terms of access to his constituents.”
He thought that Spanberger had handled her campaign with “poise” and had run circles around Brat in their debate, which surprised him because Brat is a former professor.
Kasper’s advice for Republicans who want to get back the votes of people like him? “Be consistent. If you’re against deficits under Obama, be against them when you’re in power.” For him, the jury’s still out on the tax bill: “we’ll see how it works out.”
While Spanberger was speaking, an ad from the Brat campaign aired on the television above her. Despite the large volume of attack ads Brat and his allies were spending against Spanberger, she has his vote.
“I just think she’ll be a better member of Congress,” Kasper said.