Talk about low-key.
Democrat Jack Trammell’s nomination for Virginia’s 7th District congressional seat was codified not in a convention hall or at the ballot box, but in a hastily arranged conference call Sunday with a handful of district committee members. The 50-year-old Trammell’s nod received little media attention inside Virginia — as of Monday, most outlets were still reporting that the district had no Democratic candidate — and next to none outside the commonwealth.
What a difference a few days makes.
The little-known college professor and author, who was to be the latest sacrificial lamb in Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) political ascension, is now the much-better-known candidate with, some say, a realistic shot at flipping Cantor’s seat to the Democrats.
The transformation is of course due to Republican Dave Brat’s stunning upset of Cantor in Tuesday’s primary. The giant-killer Brat, 49, a Tea Party fave who hammered Cantor on conservative causes, especially immigration, during the primary campaign, has become a rock star pinup for the conservative wing of the GOP in the wake of his astonishing victory.
But Democrats are well aware that beyond the newfound fame, Brat is still a political neophyte with nowhere near the name recognition, clout or money enjoyed by Cantor. That may give Trammell, who, like Brat, is a professor at Randolph-Macon College, an opening. What was supposed to be a sure seat for Republicans with the mighty Cantor on the ballot is suddenly a potentially competitive race between political novices, some Democrats say.
“We have a real chance to pick up this seat,” said one state Democratic Party official who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak about campaign strategy. “With Cantor, you had a powerful incumbent with tons of cash in a solidly Republican district. With Cantor out, we at least have a shot.”
But some analysts aren’t so sure.
“Barring some really major errors by Brat, this race shouldn’t be on the radar as a competitive race in November,” Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, said. “It’s difficult to see Brat losing. And because of the basic fundamentals of the district, it’s unlikely national Democrats will invest much here.”
The more likely scenario, Skelley says, is that Brat will win in November — and then “will have to fend off some serious GOP primary challengers in 2016.”
And given the well-organized Tea Party support Brat received across the central Virginia district in his unlikely win against Cantor, the Republican nominee has an added advantage in an already energized base.
But Democrats may not be willing to give Brat a pass just yet.