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Opinion Why Dave Brat should dodge Corey Stewart

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) at the White House in March 2017. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Rep. Dave Brat’s (R-Va.) reelection bid has a problem.

It’s not necessarily the candidate, who seems to have based a good deal of his current campaign on the residue of his 2014 upset of then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Those firmly in Brat’s camp will always respond to that particular dog whistle.

Nor is necessarily President Trump, whose id-driven tweets can change the issues, and thus the ground conditions, of congressional races across the country. Brat generally is on the president’s side and has been since those long-ago days when candidate Trump was giving him shout-outs from the podium at the Richmond Raceway.

Brat’s biggest problem is how and whether he can separate his campaign from that of Trump’s mini-me, GOP Senate nominee Corey A. Stewart.

Shortly after Stewart won the nomination, the Richmond Times-Dispatch asked several GOP incumbent House members, including Brat, for comment on Stewart.

Like fellow Reps. Barbara Comstock and Scott Taylor, Brat “would not answer questions” about the man at the top of the ticket.

It’s not the kind of topic Brat and his fellow Republicans can dodge forever. But Brat, at least, will give it a go, as he did Friday in an appearance on the Lee Brothers radio show in Richmond.

Brat said, “it’s up to me what the race is about.” And he hopes it will be about tax cuts, economic growth and curbing immigration.

“I like bringing everybody together. I went to seminary, and I’m going to run positive, on the issues.”

For an incumbent Republican, that’s not a bad strategy.

Then Brat was asked if he was “going to be working with Corey Stewart.”

Brat said:

We just work with every Republican. I hope it’s just pushing the Republican creed and all the issues I just talked about. That’s what we do. We just … you just say ‘here’s our vision for the American people, and here’s [Democrats’] vision.’
And I hope [voters] choose our vision. The Republican creed clearly dominates the Democrat platform on every single issue.

So no comment regarding Stewart but a big, leafy word salad about the vision-thing and the tattered Republican creed.

Brat and others can’t dodge the Stewart question forever. Virginia Democrats and his general election challenger, Abigail Spanberger, will make sure of it.

But if Brat decides to engage in politics just a bit, he’ll see the 7th District’s GOP voters have already given him the go-ahead to push Stewart away.

That evidence comes from the June 12 Senate primary election returns.

In the district’s population centers, Del. Nick Freitas won 52 percent of the vote in Chesterfield County and 58 percent in Henrico. In Goochland County, Freitas took 72 percent of the vote, and he won convincingly in other district counties such as Amelia, Powhatan, Louisa, Orange and Culpeper.

Add it all up, and Freitas won the 7th with almost 61 percent of the vote, making it the only district he won outright.

Not only did 7th District voters give Stewart the thumbs down, but they also sent Brat a signal that he could, and should, do the same.

If Brat needs more proof, consider that Stewart’s Senate race underperformed his 2017 gubernatorial primary bid in the 7thDistrict, with some of his steepest declines coming in Amelia and Culpeper counties.

Will Brat get the message?

If his post-primary ruminations, such as those on display in the Lee Brothers interview, are any indication, then no, he hasn’t. At least not yet.

He might if Spanberger begins to erode Brat’s strength in the 7th’s rural counties, the same counties where she demolished her primary rival, Dan Ward. Brat then will not only have to push Stewart away, perhaps forcefully, but he may even have to utter a discouraging word about the president.

Last year’s Republcian gubernatorial nominee, Ed Gillespie, refused to break with Trump (and, for that matter, Stewart). Time to see if Brat learns from Gillespie’s experience.

Seventh District voters have shown you the way, congressman. Follow their lead.