David Brat speaks behind closed doors in first campaign event since upsetting Cantor


David Brat addresses voters at the Henrico County Republican Party breakfast meeting April 26 in Glen Allen, Va. Brat, who went on to a surprise defeat of incumbent House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, had his first public campaign event Tuesday morning. (Jay Paul/Getty Images)

Republican congressional candidate Dave Brat continued to avoid the media spotlight Tuesday, making only brief remarks to reporters before retreating to a closed-door appearance before a local Rotary Club breakfast.

Brat also canceled a public appearance that had been scheduled for Wednesday, and although he added to his schedule an event that his campaign called a “news conference” the next day, the announcement noted that “there will be no Q&A or individual interviews.”

Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College, was thrust into the national spotlight overnight after defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in last week’s primary in central Virginia’s 7th Congressional District.

Despite staging the biggest political upset in recent memory, Brat has remained almost completely out of sight since his victory party, while Cantor went on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. Brat did submit to a phone interview with Chuck Todd on MSNBC the day after the primary, but he stumbled when asked questions about his foreign policy positions.

Tuesday’s event, a breakfast hosted by the Midlothian Rotary Club, was billed as open to the media, but a group of about a dozen reporters and television cameras were not allowed into the DoubleTree Hotel ballroom where the breakfast was held. Instead, members of the media were ushered into a small conference room, where Brat read a less-than-two-minute-long statement and did not take questions.

Tea party challenger David Brat defeated the second-ranking Republican in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). So, who is David Brat? Here he is, in his own words. (Jackie Kucinich/The Washington Post)

Campaign spokesman Brian Gottstein said it was the Rotary Club’s decision to keep the event private even though the campaign had invited reporters to cover it on Monday.

The club’s acting president, Chandler Williams, said that although he did not make the call to keep the event closed, he agreed with it.

Brat, in his statement to reporters, said his campaign will focus on solving the nation’s economic problems.

“Too many Virginians are still suffering without jobs, suffering under the rising costs of Obamacare, and the government’s attempts to spend our way into prosperity have proven to be a dismal failure of the last few years. We have to work on real solutions to these problems and to get our nation back on track,” he said. “We’ve got a message of economic prosperity that we’re going to share with central Virginians across the district over the coming weeks.”

Brat attended the meeting as a guest of a member and was not the keynote speaker; that honor fell to incoming president Chris Winslow. Club members were surprised to see a gaggle of reporters camped out in the hallway, Williams said.

“I found his comments very unpretentious. He was not there to campaign. He was there to just introduce himself,” he said.

About an hour after he arrived, Brat was whisked out a rear door and into a black Dodge Durango. He was expected to spend the rest of the day huddled with staff, Gottstein said.

The campaign has a transition team of 15 people, including paid and volunteer staff, he said. In the early stages of building a national campaign, the staff is still looking for phones and computers for office space in Midlothian and Innsbrook, he said.

Brat, who trounced Cantor despite spending less than $200,000 on his primary campaign, has enjoyed “steady” fundraising since his win, Gottstein said.

“Today, we’re hitting the ground running, meeting with people across the 7th District. When we knocked on doors and spoke to thousands of people on the campaign trail, we found that they were eager to send someone to Washington who has a deep understanding of economics and that can actually help to fix the real problems we face in this country,” Brat said.

In the MSNBC phone interview, Todd asked Brat whether he was in favor of arming Syrian rebels.

“Hey, Chuck,” Brat responded, “I thought we were just going to chat today about the celebratory aspect. I’d love to go through all of this, but my mind is just, I didn’t get much sleep. . . .” He later added: “I just wanted to talk about the victory ahead and thank everyone who worked so hard on the campaign.”

Brat faces Jack Trammell (D) in November’s general election, and in a heavily Republican district, he is seen as the favorite.

Jenna Portnoy covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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