RICHMOND, Va. — Dave Brat doesn’t like being tagged a tea partyer, his dad says.
“He doesn’t like those labels,” said Paul Brat, who’s been watching his son shoot to the top of American political news with his stunning primary defeat Tuesday of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “He calls himself a Republican and runs on Republican principles.”
If Dave Brat is not a tea partyer, he’s nonetheless the loosely-organized movement’s star at a time when it has struggled to matter in the 2014 midterm elections. In the shell-shocked hours after he defeated Cantor on a shoestring campaign budget, Brat, the Richmond suburbs’ GOP nominee to the House, struggled to define who he was to a media horde with a sudden interest.
The 49-year-old father of two is a professor at Randolph-Macon College, a small liberal arts institution north of Richmond. But he’s not a liberal college professor as Cantor tried to portray him. Brat, who holds a PhD in economics from American University and has studied at Princeton Theological Seminary, says he’s a believer in God, free enterprise and the Constitution. He says an overarching goal has been to merge his interest in philosophy and economics.
“I thought I had a special calling to join those two things together,” Brat said Wednesday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “That’s what’s missing from the modern world; everything is compartmentalized.”
Brat was one of three boys raised in a staunch Republican, religious household in Michigan and Minnesota where reading was valued and discussions turned on philosophy and ethics, his father said.
Paul Brat, a retired physician who lives in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, said family members were regular church-goers. “We are a very spiritual household,” he said.
His son now attends a Roman Catholic church with his wife, who is Catholic. The younger Brat said he identifies himself as Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian.
Paul Brat said he encouraged all his sons to read, offering them $10 a pop for each book they completed. His list of preferred titles leaned toward the classics.
“We’d always have discussions on theology and philosophy,” the elder Brat said in a phone interview. “‘War and Peace’,” that was more than 10 bucks. At least 20 bucks.”
Brat’s earnest approach to politics and big ideas resonated with many central Virginia voters Tuesday, including a large contingent of tea party activists who were angry at Cantor and his allies’ efforts to seize control of the state party. Cantor spent $4.8 million this election cycle, and ran several TV ads attacking Brat. Brat ran his campaign on $123,000 and beat Cantor 56-44 percent.
National tea party groups, which did not invest heavily in the race, were quick to claim Brat’s victory as their own. Some of his potential constituents say there’s little doubt Brat is a tea partyer.
“If the question is, is David Brat a tea party candidate, I’d have to say, yeah, because of what I’ve seen and heard and because most of the people I know in the tea party, especially in the Richmond area, were very much behind him,” said Floyd C. Bayne, a tea party Republican who twice ran unsuccessfully against Cantor. “It was just a given as far as we were concerned.”
On Wednesday, the giant-killer holed up in his suburban home just north of Richmond. Brat didn’t respond to national and local media who knocked on his door and staked out his house all morning seeking in-person interviews. The night before, shortly after the race had been called, Brat had said he planned to play tennis with his son and take a dip in the community pool. But after a few hours of intense media focus, Brat changed his plans.
“I’m just staying indoors today,” he told the AP.
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