Democrats packed a recreation center in Goochland County on Thursday evening for the first large forum between three candidates vying to be their party’s nominee to face Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th.

Fueled by the unpopularity of President Donald Trump and sweeping gains by Democrats in last year’s state elections, the rural Democrats opened their meeting talking about a “blue tsunami” that would lead their party to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Democratic candidates are Helen Alli of Glen Allen, an Army veteran and business owner; Abigail Spanberger of Glen Allen, a former CIA officer; and Dan Ward of Orange County, a pilot and former Marine and State Department adviser. They answered questions for two hours at the Goochland Recreational Center. The primary for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District and other seats is June 12.

“One of ‘em’s going to kick Dave Brat’s behind,” said forum moderator Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor from Northern Virginia who ran in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor last year. “If I were a Republican running for election or re-election in November, I would be scared to death.

“In Virginia, we have taken this state back, and we are going to control the House of Representatives in January of 2019.”

A fourth candidate, Diane Fraser, recently left the race and is helping Ward. The candidates appeared last month at a small forum in Nottoway County, but Thursday’s event in Goochland gave them a chance to talk about health care, guns, taxes and Russian interference in American elections in front of a crowd of more than 125 Democrats from Goochland and the surrounding area.

Brat, a Trump ally who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and who backed the recently passed GOP tax cut, is seeking a third term.

“Folks, the Constitution can handle a president like Trump. But it requires Congress not be complicit,” Ward said. “This Congress is complicit. And Dave Brat is a yes man to Donald Trump. We have to stop it, and that’s why I’m running.”

Spanberger said her trips around the district talking to voters have put her in tune with its needs.

“As I’ve been along the campaign trail ... I recognize that access to affordable quality health care is a life-or-death issue for so many people, and preserving our environment and safeguarding civil rights and ensuring that our economy is growing and that there are educational opportunities is in fact also a life-or-death situation for so many people,” she said.

Alli highlighted her Army service.

“I’m here to fight now, and so I took out my gear and I’ve got Dave Brat on radar and we are going to remove him,” she said.

The Goochland County Democratic Committee and the Powhatan County Democratic Committee co-sponsored the forum.

Seventeen-year-old Colleen Trott asked the candidates about gun control in the wake of the school shooting in Florida on Wednesday. She is a student at Powhatan High School in a rural area where she described gun culture as strong.

Trott won’t be able to vote for Congress this year because she’ll turn 18 the day after the Nov. 6 election. But participating in politics, she said, is how she’ll be active in the meantime.

“This is what I can do to influence and effect change,” she said.

Tina Winkler, co-chair of the Democratic committee in Goochland, decided in December that she wanted to hold a forum. She put out 125 seats, and not only did they fill, but there also were people standing in a foyer to listen.

“I expected we would fill every seat, but I wasn’t expecting standing room only,” she said.

The Liberal Women of Chesterfield County will hold a forum for the same candidates from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday at Monacan High School.

pwilson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @patrickmwilson

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