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Meet David Brat, The Giant-Killer Who Knocked Off Eric Cantor

David Brat, who upset Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor in Tuesday's 7th Congressional District GOP primary, at a May 28 news conference at the Capitol in Richmond.
Steve Helber
David Brat, who upset Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor in Tuesday's 7th Congressional District GOP primary, at a May 28 news conference at the Capitol in Richmond.

Who is David Brat, the slayer of a goliath of congressional politics, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor?

The man who rocked the political world Tuesday is a 52-year-old, passionate, self-described "free-market, Milton Friedman economist" and a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. In addition to economics, Brat has also taught ethics, a testament to having attended Princeton Theological Seminary, where he got a master's degree. He later earned a Ph.D. from American University.

Cantor tried to paint Brat as a liberal, but in reality he's anything but. Supported by Tea Party and grass-roots activists, at campaign stops and in interviews Brat would tick through the elements of what he stands for, what he calls the Republican "creed — free markets, equal protection under the law, fiscal responsibility, constitutional restraint, strong military and belief in God."

"There's only one problem with the Republican creed, and that is no Republican follows it," Brat told conservative radio host Mark Levin in an interview last month, an appearance that gives an idea of the type of ideological purity Brat promises to bring to Congress.

From the Midwest originally, Brat became established enough in the commonwealth to win appointments by Virginia governors to the state's Council of Economic Advisers — first by then-Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine and later reappointed by Kaine's successor, Bob McDonnell, a Republican.

The Cantor campaign sought to use the Kaine appointment to paint the economist, inaccurately, as a progressive in an attempt to make Brat politically unpalatable to the conservative-minded Richmond-area congressional district.

But the activists who come out to vote in low-turnout primaries didn't buy what the Cantor campaign was selling.

Some of Brat's scholarly work combines his interests in religious faith and economics. His curriculum vitae mentions a book project titled "Ethics as a Leading Economic Indicator? What Went Wrong? Notes on the Judeo-Christian Tradition and Human Reason."

Some of the papers and articles he has presented and published show the same cross-pollinating tendencies. "God and Advanced Mammon — Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?" was one. "An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand," which he co-wrote, was another. Other work appears to be straight-ahead economics.

A Roman Catholic, Brat is married and has two teenage children. His victory ended the congressional career, for now at least, of the man who was in position to become the House's first Jewish speaker.

Brat's victory creates a rare spectacle in American politics — two professors from the same college, one Republican and the other a Democrat, competing for a House seat.

Brat faces Jack Trammell, who teaches sociology at the college and is director of the school's Disability Support Services. Trammell has also written about the slave trade in Richmond, which is about 20 miles from Ashland, where the college is located.

Because the district is Republican in orientation — and Trammell has raised almost no money — Brat is the overwhelming favorite to win.

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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