June 12, 2014 at 9:57 am

Tea party darling Dave Brat's back story begins in Michigan

Dave Brat, 49, was born in Alma, Mich. (Steve Helber / AP)

In one day, Dave Brat went from a political nobody with Michigan roots to a national king slayer, a tea party darling who has turned Washington on its head.

Outraised $5.7 million to $231,000, the economics professor at a small Virginia college became the first person to defeat a House majority leader in a primary.

His victory over Eric Cantor Tuesday in a Republican primary in the Richmond, Va., district sent the national media on a mad scramble to learn whatever they could about the political neophyte.

His Wikipedia entry before Tuesday night was two lines long.

Brat’s back story begins in Michigan. He was born in Alma and received a bachelor’s in business administration from Hope College, a small liberal arts school in Holland.

His former roommate at Hope said Brat was a natural leader who had been class president at the college.

“He’s a very, very bright guy, and he’s always been able to relate to people,” said Scott Wierda, co-managing partner of CWD Real Estate Investments in Grand Rapids.

After graduating from Hope in 1986, Brat, 49, received a master’s in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1990 and a doctorate in economics from American University five years later.

He became a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., in 1996 and has been there ever since. He is married with two teenage children.

During the campaign, Cantor tried to paint his opponent as a liberal college professor. But the lifelong Republican ran well to the right of Cantor, opposing immigration reform and vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act and never raise taxes.

His campaign website extolled what Brat called the Republican creed: free markets, fiscal responsibility, a strong military and constitutional restraint.

“There’s only one problem with the Republican creed and that is no Republican follows it,” he told a conservative radio host last month.

Brat’s conservative views weren’t just a political hat he wore during the election. They extend into his work and personal life, acquaintances said.

He has described himself as a free-market, Milton Friedman economist who has been influenced by “Atlas Shrugged.”

The Ayn Rand novel, often cited by pols to show their libertarian or conservative bona fides, promotes individualism and free markets.

Richard Rahn, a conservative economist, said he knew Brat a little after they both served on the Virginia Council of Economic Advisers.

“He always portrayed himself to me as very conservative,” Rahn told FactCheck earlier this year.

Brat was appointed to the economic council by a Democratic governor and then reappointed by a Republican governor.

He also worked as a special assistant to a Virginia state senator from 2005 to 2011, advising the senator about higher education.

Brat’s startling victory Tuesday wasn’t his first political foray. In 2011, he ran for a smaller office, Virginia state house, and lost against five opponents.

Three years later, his chances of beating Cantor seemed insurmountable.

Cantor was a strong fundraiser with a long history of thumping his opponents in elections. No House majority leader had lost a primary in the 115 years of the office.

Not even the tea party thought Brat had a chance. Brat said the media didn’t take him seriously, either.

“I give 30-minute stump speeches on policy, and the press made fun of me,” he told Fox News Tuesday night.

Now the media want to know everything it can about the onetime long shot.

FDonnelly@detroitnews.com
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