Brad Blanton wants to win a seat in Congress, wants to rid Virginia's 7th District of Rep. Eric I. Cantor, who is a Republican -- "the operational definition of which," Blanton says, "is liar."
That is a novel campaign slogan in the state's most heavily Republican district, especially against an incumbent who rocketed in two years to one of the most powerful seats in national Republican leadership: House chief deputy whip. Cantor has won his two congressional races with 70 percent of the vote.
To Blanton, such landslides prove the point he is trying to make in running in the 7th District, which centers on Richmond's suburbs before zigzagging northwest. He sees a corrupt and gerrymandered political system in which Everyman has no chance.
A psychotherapist in Washington for 25 years, Blanton, 64, is driven by the conclusion he has drawn from his career: Human unhappiness is caused by the lies people tell themselves and others. Since moving back to his native Shenandoah Valley 15 years ago, he has written books about the importance of spilling your entire soul and runs workshops called "Radical Honesty."
"I'm here to do therapy with the country, to try and do therapy with Congress," said Blanton, an independent who lives in Stanley, a small town near the northern stretch of Skyline Drive.
Blanton said he doesn't have a chance of winning, and there has been almost no stumping on either side and no debates. So his campaign, which has been limited to talking to a few small groups and making a five-minute television spot, is the only substantive critique the 7th District will likely hear of Cantor -- a former real estate lawyer and state lawmaker from Henrico County -- now, and perhaps for some time to come. The Almanac of American Politics, considered by many the bible of U.S. politics, says Cantor probably will not "have to worry about reelection for the remainder of this decade."
Since taking office in 2000, Cantor, 41, has sponsored several pieces of legislation popular with constituents, including one barring illegal immigrants from having driver's licenses and another that gave parents a tax credit of $1,000 per child for education. But he is best known for his rapid rise in GOP politics. Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) picked the neophyte in 2002 as chief deputy whip, responsible for keeping track of how legislators plan to vote and persuading them to support party positions.
Democratic critics attack his unwavering support of the administration. "Cantor is basically [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay's lap dog," said Ben Jones, a Democrat who lost to Cantor in 2002, when turnout was 40 percent.
Critics say his lack of independence shows in his signature on a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton opposing a plan by an Indian tribe to open a casino in Louisiana. The letter, which was co-signed by DeLay and two other top Republicans, was drafted by a GOP lobbyist close to DeLay to benefit a rival Indian tribe's casino. But Cantor said he is against efforts to bring Indian gaming to Virginia and considered the letter a chance to express his general opposition to expanding gambling.
Cantor said he thinks his House leadership role helps him be a better advocate for Virginia, a position shared by at least one former opponent.
"We elect people to represent us. In representing us, part of that job is to build up your sphere of influence," said state Sen. Stephen Martin (R-Chesterfield), who lost by 197 votes to Cantor in the 2000 primary. "It demonstrates his ability to move people when they need to move."
The district was carefully drawn to exclude the many black, Democratic voters in Richmond, tracing the edges of the city. About three-quarters of its voters live in the city's suburbs. From there, it tacks northwest, through Hanover, Louisa and Spotsylvania counties and stretches to the mountains. It has been a Republican district for decades and was last represented by former Richmond mayor Thomas J. Bliley Jr., who held the seat for 20 years before stepping down and anointing Cantor.
Democrats said they haven't given up -- for next time. For this time, they were still talking to potential candidates as late as June, district chairman Marjorie Clark said.
Clark said that among the issues on which Cantor may not accurately represent his constituents is U.S. policy toward Israel. The only Jewish Republican in the House, Cantor releases statements often about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, always focusing on Israel's safety and status as a democratic U.S. ally. Clark said she believes that many 7th District voters feel more empathy for the Palestinians but don't want to criticize a U.S. ally during a war.
In part because of his interest in the Middle East, Cantor was named chairman of the House Republican task force on terrorism and unconventional warfare. He said the Iraq war has diminished terrorism in that region because of the presence of the U.S. military.
For example, he said, Iran is now "very mindful of the fact that we have 150,000 troops there." Asked what Iran has done specifically to demonstrate this heightened alert, he said, "I haven't been in Tehran to tell you, but I can say with the Bush doctrine -- that we will go after the threat wherever it is -- [the troops have] a significant impact on what state sponsors do."
Cantor said the growing, suburbanizing district's focus is on economic development. He has tried to help the Richmond airport -- "traditionally known for some of the highest fares in the country," Cantor said -- attract a low-cost airline and has worked to return tax dollars to residents. He cited a measure allowing parents who participate in pretax savings plans for child care to carry over any unused portion into the next year.
He said he also is a "big supporter" of the No Child Left Behind Act, which he said helps parents assess schools' performances.
Blanton, on the other hand, said that the Education Department should be abolished and that all the money spent on it should go to parents and citizens groups. Teachers and child-care workers should be paid hundreds of dollars an hour, he said, while lawyers should make minimum wage.
Blanton said the issue most critical to the country's future is campaign finance reform. He advocates banning donations from companies and unions and limiting individual donations to $20.
Robert Holsworth, director of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, said there seems to be only one question about Cantor: "What does he want to do with his political future?"