Eric Cantor’s Former Democratic Challenger On How To Turn The District Blue

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) conceded defeat after his Tuesday primary CREDIT: AP PHOTO/STEVE HELBER
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) conceded defeat after his Tuesday primary CREDIT: AP PHOTO/STEVE HELBER

Jim Nachman, an attorney and former Richmond City Democratic Chairman, knows a good deal about Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. He not only serves on the district’s Democratic committee, but was the 2006 Democratic nominee against then-Chief Deputy Republican Whip Eric Cantor.

Cantor, now the powerful House Majority Leader, lost his primary on Tuesday to a Tea Party-aligned college professor named Dave Brat. While Cantor would have been a heavy favorite for re-election in a general election, the primary upset has Democrats taking a fresh look at their chances in November.

In a phone interview Thursday, Nachman told ThinkProgress that he believes Democratic nominee Jack Trammell could win over Brat in November, despite the gerrymandered district’s distinct Republican tilt.

Jim Nachman CREDIT: 2006 campaign site
Jim Nachman CREDIT: 2006 campaign site

What are your thoughts on Jack Trammell’s viability?

I think he is viable, especially given the new dynamics of the campaign. I think it just depends on the voters’ perception of these two candidates. This is kinda a new ballgame. It remains to be seen whether Dave Brat is too radical for the 7th district. Just because one wins a primary doesn’t mean one will appeal to the majority of voters throughout the district in a general election. I imagine Brat will be portrayed as radical, out of touch, too right wing. I think Jack Trammell is a moderate and will portray himself as a moderate. That may be more appealing than a candidate from the far right. We all know it’s a gerrymandered district, it has a built in advantage for a Republican. But I don’t know if Dave Brat’s style and his brand of Republicanism is going to be appealing to a majority of voters in a general election.

What would Trammell need to do to win?

I think he needs to be his own person, he needs to be reasonable and moderate with regard to the issues. With Brat, it’s black and white, no shades of gray. Honestly, 65 to 70 percent of the voters in the district are here in the Richmond metropolitan suburban area. I’m not sure people in the suburbs are gonna like Brat’s style of politics. We’ll see how he conducts himself — if he’s very rigid and very dogmatic, I think that will work against him. But I don’t know that given his base, he can be anything else. It remains to be seen if he can moderate himself, if it’s in him or not.

Why Trammell selected by the 7th District Democratic Committee?

He was selected by the committee because we thought it was important that we find a candidate. Trammell was recruited because he is very articulate, very thoughtful. We vetted him and I think he’s gonna be a fine candidate.

Have you spoken with him at all?

I talked to him for about an hour on Sunday before we nominated him… I found him to be very articulate and very thoughtful. He doesn’t have a lot of political experience — but I think that cuts both ways, it might be refreshing. I think he’ll be himself and give good, honest answers. Neither of them have a whole lot of political experience. They have very different philosophies, so it’s gonna be a good choice. Like any election, the candidate who can appeal to the majority of voters who come out and vote. A lot of Republicans may not like Brat’s views. Trammell will need to put together a base of Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans, a doable thing. No one was interested in putting a lot of resources [into this race] before, but now the dynamics have changed and I think the party is gonna get behind him, give him some support. I’m hoping they do.

Is the district really more conservative than Cantor?

I don’t know that Cantor was necessarily out of touch with a lot of the 7th District voters, but in a primary it’s a different equation. A lot of people were not happy with Cantor because of his style — he was trying to strike a balance between being Majority Leader and maybe a future speaker and being a Congressman. As far as the issues are concerned, I’m not exactly sure why Republicans were upset with Eric Cantor — he was basically speaking right down the Republican line. He was on the right on every single issue. I don’t know what they had to complain about, about Eric Cantor. We as Democrats had plenty to complain about, about Eric Cantor. He was not representative of our philosophy.

I think for people who vote, he was representative of them. But the district has gotten a little bit better — we looked at the statistics and noted that Terry McAuliffe got 38 percent of the vote in the 7th [in the 2013 governor’s race]. People were talking that the district was 42% Democratic performance — I think Obama’s numbers are kind of skewing the Democratic performance — but when I ran, the Democratic performance was 30%. It is better now, more realistic to think that a Democrat — especially given the new dynamics of the campaign — has a realistic chance. If Brat stays true to his Tea Party philosophy, it’s their way or the highway. I do not think that philosophy is shared by the majority; it’s conservative, but it’s a moderate conservatism, not the sort of right-wing conservatism Brat is espousing. I think it makes Brat vulnerable. I don’t know that he can stop himself from being who he is, that he can moderate himself or change his philosophy. The GOP and the Tea Party faction are not flexible. It’s great in a primary, but in a general election it puts them at a disadvantage. It’s a new ballgame.