ASHLAND, Va. (AP) — Republican Dave Brat, who toppled then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a June primary, cast himself as a future check on President Barack Obama's policies as he debated a Democratic rival Tuesday at the Virginia college where both candidates teach.
Brat sparred Tuesday evening with Democrat Jack Trammell over the federal Affordable Care Act, immigration and the minimum wage at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland.
Brat rode a wave of tea-party backed support to a stunning upset of Cantor last summer and is favored to win the heavily Republican 7th Congressional District in central Virginia, which includes the Richmond-area suburbs. Brat repeatedly played up his role as an economics professor in the debate, saying said he would be the best choice to help spur the U.S. economy.
"You can vote for someone who supports President Obama's policies like Jack does, or you can vote for someone who knows from hundreds of years of economic history that top-down, centralized government planning fails every single time it's been tried," Brat said.
Trammell defended some of Obama's policies, criticized others, and tried to position himself as a bipartisan dealmaker.
"President Obama is not on the ballot in this district, I just want to make sure everyone knows that," Trammell told the crowd.
While the debate was mostly a collegial discussion on an array of issues, Brat took a few swipes at Trammell over some of the Democrat's TV ads that have suggested Brat wants to end Social Security.
"These false attack ads are not helping anyone," Brat said. "And if I had him in class I'd give him an ethics paper and send him to the dean."
Tuesday's debate was long awaited in Virginia and Randolph-Macon's star turn with two of its faculty members in the running. Tickets for the event had sold out within minutes, any many students at the liberal arts college of about 1,300 students watched the event via a livestream. The college was named after two congressmen: John Randolph of Roanoke and Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina.
The school did not invite Libertarian candidate James Carr to participate in the debate, but he obtained a ticket and sat in the audience. Both Brat and Trammell, who teaches sociology, have taken a leave of absence from the school to campaign.
Voters will cast ballots twice on Election Day: one to fill the remaining weeks in Cantor's term and another vote for the next two-year term.
Cantor had left his seat vacant when he resigned from Congress in August after seven terms representing the district. He has since taken up work with a global independent investment bank.