RICHMOND — Just seven weeks before Election Day, Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) has tapped a tea party activist who once served as his chief of staff to help guide his campaign against Democrat Abigail Spanberger.

Phil Rapp, who has worked on and off for Brat since the congressman’s earliest days in politics, has assumed a leadership role in the campaign although an exact title has not been determined.

Campaign manager Katey Price is staying on but is likely to focus more on communications while Rapp will concentrate on the operational side of the campaign.

Some Republican observers saw the move as a shake-up and an admission that Brat is in trouble. But the campaign said that Rapp, who has informally advised Brat throughout the contest, is merely making his role more official.

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“There’s nothing new here,” Price said in a text message Tuesday night. “Phil has been a political advisor to Dave Brat for four years, he’s doing what he’s always done, which is helping us win. He brings invaluable experience in grassroots and is a big asset to our team.”

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Rapp, who serves as an aide to Sen. William Stanley (R-Franklin) during legislative sessions in Richmond, did not respond to a request for comment.

Brat was a little-known Randolph-Macon College economic professor four years ago when he beat then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the GOP primary, a stunning upset fueled by an ascendant tea party. This year, Brat is contending with a strong challenge from Spanberger, a former CIA officer who could benefit from anti-Trump sentiment in the district’s suburban areas and lingering resentment that Cantor supporters have for Brat. The Cook Political Report classifies the race as a “toss-up.”

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A former executive at Richmond manufacturer Tredegar Corp., Rapp was newly retired and energized by the tea party movement when he got behind Brat’s unlikely bid to unseat Cantor. As a senior adviser and volunteer coordinator during the 2014 primary, Rapp was in charge of the grass-roots field operation that many credit with making the difference for Brat.

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After pulling off the primary win, Brat replaced campaign manager Zach Werrell with Amanda Chase, now a Republican state senator. Three weeks after that, he replaced Chase with Rapp. He had never run a congressional campaign but Brat cruised to victory in a district then considered a GOP stronghold.

Rapp promised to help Brat through that general election, but then planned to retire, the political blog Virginia Right reported in 2015. But Brat convinced him to stay on as his chief of staff in Washington.

“Dave Brat’s advisor Phil Rapp Retires (Again!)” read the headline when he finally retired in mid-2015.

“He’s somebody who doesn’t make a lot of noise, but his thinking and his execution have great effect,” Stanley said. “And the Democrats should be worried now that he’s back.”

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