2016-04-06 / News

Local attorney will challenge Brat in new-look 7th District

By Jim McConnell

Eileen Bedell has filed to run as a Democrat in the 7th District. 
Courtesy of Bedell for Virginia Eileen Bedell has filed to run as a Democrat in the 7th District. Courtesy of Bedell for Virginia Eileen Bedell is nobody’s sacrificial lamb.

Bedell, a 43-year-old attorney and Bon Air resident, has heard that a Democrat can’t win the 7th District’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Even after a three-judge panel redrew Virginia’s Congressional map and carved out Hanover County – home to many of Rep. Dave Brat’s most ardent supporters – the sprawling, heavily rural 7th District still figures to be friendly turf for Brat’s first re-election bid.

That didn’t deter Bedell from filing her campaign paperwork in January. When nobody else sought the Democratic nomination by the filing deadline last Friday, the first-time candidate happily embraced the opportunity to unseat Brat in November’s general election.

“You have to believe in the underdog,” she said during an interview Saturday morning.

This is a district where you can overturn conventional wisdom think about what Dave Brat did to Eric Cantor two years ago. I truly believe if you give the voters a reasonable alternative, it will result in a competitive election.”

Strip club owner Mike Dickinson, a liberal, was the first to express interest in pursuing the Democratic nomination in the 7th District. He filed campaign documents last November and has obtained enough signatures required to put his name on the ballot, but he announced last Thursday that he had decided instead to run as nominee of the independent Green Party.

“I felt that the local Democratic committees were not going to give me a fair shake. They have an idea of someone they want to run and in turn go out of their way to keep others out,” said Dickinson, who insisted he’ll be the “real Democrat” running in the 7th District.

“I can assure you whoever they run will not take Democratic stances on such critical issues as gun control, police corruption, student loan debt and opiate abuse.”

Elizabeth Hardin, chair of the Chesterfield Democratic Committee, said that 7th District Democrats couldn’t have asked for a better candidate than Bedell.

“Eileen is incredibly intelligent and accomplished as an attorney and small business owner, and she is very much in tune with the concerns of the citizens of the 7th District,” Hardin added. “She is great at bringing people together.”

While Bedell praised Dickinson’s energy and said he’s “obviously a very passionate Democrat,” history suggests that his hard-left agenda will have difficulty gaining traction in a district that includes rural counties such as Orange, Louisa, Amelia, Powhatan and Nottoway.

Midlothian attorney Wayne Powell ran the most effective campaign of any Democrat in the modern 7th District, tapping into a vein of citizen frustration with Cantor to earn 41 percent of the vote in 2012.

Most Democrats have fared far worse.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who said they’re happy I’m running, but that I can’t win,” Bedell said. “You can’t approach any competition that way.”

Bedell described herself as “fiscally responsible, socially liberal” and cited U.S. Sen. Mark Warner as the type of Democrat capable of connecting with moderate Republicans in the 7th District.

She also claimed that Brat’s ideology is further right on the political spectrum than a majority of the district’s Republican voters.

“Brat absolutely wants to cut Social Security and Medicare – I don’t understand why more people aren’t hearing that,” Bedell said.

Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, shocked Cantor in the 2014 GOP primary with a novel political strategy: He ran hard to the incumbent’s right, successfully branding Cantor as a supporter of amnesty for undocumented immigrants, while blaming him for Congressional Republicans’ failure to rein in federal spending and overturn the controversial Affordable Care Act.

Since going to Congress, Brat has continued to bang the drum on spending; at a town hall last month in Midlothian, he suggested that if nothing is done to address the nation’s $19 trillion debt, eventually all federal revenue will be allocated to Social Security, Medicare, the prescription drug benefit for seniors, and paying interest on the debt.

“It’s naïve to think that anyone is ignoring the debt and the deficit,” Bedell said. “There are different ways to responsibly address the budget without cutting Social Security and Medicare.”

Noting that Brat’s nickname in Washington is “Mr. No,” Bedell said it should be difficult to convince voters that you’re effectively representing their views if your entire agenda revolves around obstructing the federal government.

“I believe voters want someone who will go to Congress and do the work – that these simplistic approaches to complex problems aren’t the answer,” she added. “He has identified problems. I’m looking to identify solutions.”

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