CULPEPER — In what might be the only election debate in Virginia’s 7th U.S. House District, Democrat Abigail Spanberger sought to run to the political center while GOP Rep. Dave Brat kept pulling her back by trying to tie her to unpopular House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and liberal immigration policy.
Acknowledging that he had tried to link Spanberger to Pelosi “a million times,” the former economics professor, seeking a third term in Congress, highlighted his conservative positions on immigration and taxes in Monday’s debate at Germanna Community College, hosted by the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce and televised by WTVR CBS6.
Spanberger, a former CIA officer, has outraised Brat four quarters in a row and hopes Democratic energy fueled by President Donald Trump in the Richmond suburbs can help her pull off an upset in a district Republicans have held since 1971. Spanberger attacked Brat over his vote for permanent corporate tax cuts in last year’s tax bill, and what the Congressional Budget Office has forecast will be an additional $1.9 trillion in debt.
Brat several times said Spanberger supported a Medicare-for-all plan that she has said — and said repeatedly in the debate — she does not support.
Brat said he ran four years ago as an outsider, reminding the audience of over 400, and viewers watching at home, that he challenged his own party’s leadership on immigration when he landed a surprising upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary.
“That huge win opened the door for now millions of millions of dollars” that “are now flooding from the left and Nancy Pelosi and outside special interest groups into this district to buy this election back,” Brat said. “This election is huge money and a vote for my opponent will be a vote for the Nancy Pelosi liberal agenda.”
Brat heralded the tax cut that Congress passed and Trump signed last year.
“The tax cuts passed and this economy is just booming,” Brat said. For an average family, he said: “That is a new refrigerator. That is a family vacation. That is a car repair.”
Spanberger, who has said she will not support Pelosi for Democratic leader if she is elected, criticized Brat for supporting corporate tax cuts of $42 billion for the pharmaceutical industry as the two argued throughout the debate over addressing health care costs.
“I question again whether Congressman Brat knows which Democrat, in fact, he’s running against. Because I am not the Democrat who supported single payer in the primary, I am not Nancy Pelosi and I am not President Barack Obama,” Spanberger said.
“I am a woman who grew up in Henrico County, grew up in this community. Who was taught service, hard work and a commitment to the belief that the American people can be anything and we will lead the way in this world.”
Brat erroneously claimed in the debate that a Washington Post fact checker had given four “Pinocchios” to Spanberger — which would qualify as a “whopper” on the Post’s ratings scale — over a TV ad, but the fact check related to an ad in Pennsylvania.
Brat tried to tie Spanberger to “sanctuary cities.” Virginia doesn’t have sanctuary cities, which are loosely defined.
Spanberger said she worked with Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a federal officer. Offering few specifics, she said she supports bipartisan immigration reform and strong border security.
Brat this year backed a compromise immigration bill from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, which would have allowed people under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to remain in the U.S., but the bill failed in the House. He cited his support for that compromise during the debate.
“It’s very clear that my opponent falls to the very far left on the issue of immigration,” Brat said.
Spanberger responded: “Congressman Brat, I appreciate you explaining to me the role of federal law enforcement agents because indeed I used to be one. … I am well aware of the role of federal agents. I do not support safe havens for criminals or gangs.”
On trade, Brat described himself as a free trader but defended Trump administration tariffs as a temporary necessity, blaming China. Spanberger opposes the tariffs.
And while Brat mentioned former President Barack Obama several times in his critique of Spanberger’s positions, the current president — who helped drive a Democratic wave election in Virginia last year — didn’t come up much in the debate.
Libertarian candidate Joe Walton, who has described himself as a sensible centrist in the race, was not allowed to participate and watched from the audience.
Spanberger’s campaign said in a news release on Sunday that her filing for the third quarter of the year will show she raised nearly $3.6 million for the quarter and has not taken money from corporate PACs. Brat’s third quarter filing with the Federal Election Commission showed he raised just more than $1 million in the quarter.
Spending by outside groups between Oct. 1 and Friday favored Brat, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. Outside spending to help Brat totaled $1,268,020 while outside spending to help Spanberger was $958,495.
With just 22 days left before Election Day, Monday’s debate could be the only debate of the general election between Brat and Spanberger, who beat Dan Ward in a Democratic primary in June after numerous debates and forums with him and other candidates.
The Spanberger campaign said Brat mentioned Pelosi at least 25 times on Monday.