AP NEWS

Dave Brat, Abigail Spanberger kick off ‘toss-up’ congressional race with attack ads

September 28, 2018

Democrats and Republicans have aired or booked nearly half a million dollars’ worth of ads this month in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District race, as GOP Rep. Dave Brat works to fend off a stiff challenge from Democrat Abigail Spanberger in the Republican-leaning district.

There were more than $130,000 worth of ads totaling hundreds of airings just last week to kick off the post-Labor Day sprint to November, according to figures released Wednesday by the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), a nonpartisan tracker of political money.

Mr. Brat has cruised to double-digit wins since toppling then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a June 2014 primary, but political handicappers have labeled the race a “toss-up” as both sides jockey for position on the airwaves in the final two months of the campaign.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a House GOP-aligned super PAC, has rolled out an ad campaign in recent days tied to Ms. Spanberger’s work at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Northern Virginia. The issue has drawn national attention after the Democratic challenger, who is a former CIA agent and Postal Service inspector, accused the PAC of illegally obtaining her government security clearance application.

A recent Congressional Leadership Fund ad asked what Ms. Spanberger is “hiding” on the issue.

“Spanberger doesn’t want us to know that she taught at an Islamic school nicknamed ‘Terror High’ a terrorist breeding ground,” a narrator says in the 30-second ad.

The spot has run at least 90 times in the Richmond media market since it debuted last Thursday, according to VPAP. The district stretches from the Richmond area up to outer suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The ad refers to the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, where Ms. Spanberger taught as a substitute English teacher from 2002 to 2003.

The school has attracted bipartisan scrutiny from local and national officials, who have raised concerns about known and suspected terrorists who have attended, including Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who was implicated in a plot to assassinate then-President George W. Bush in 2005.

Justin Jones, a spokesman for the Spanberger campaign, said Wednesday she served for more than a decade to keep the country safe from threats and received top secret clearances “based on her background, experience and integrity.”

“These baseless and false attacks are a desperate and weak attempt by Congressman Brat’s allies to distract from the fact that he has failed Virginia’s 7th District,” Mr. Jones said.

The Spanberger campaign also has rolled out two ads in recent days to try to hit back. One accuses Mr. Brat and his allies of trying to “smear” her, pointing to a recent letter from national security figures raising concerns about the use of the documents.

“Shame on Dave Brat,” concludes the ad.

Mr. Brat’s campaign fired back by saying that Ms. Spanberger is “desperate” to hide her positions on the issues from Virginia voters.

“Spanberger is so out-of-step with voters that she told the New York Times she is proud of working at an anti-American school that groomed terrorists,” said Brat campaign spokeswoman Katey Price.

Another Spanberger ad has a softer tone, with retired CIA officer John Sipher vouching for her national security credentials.

“Associating Abigail with terrorism is laughable,” Mr. Sipher said. “She chose to do the hardest work that this country asks of anybody.”

Ms. Spanberger has implied that the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) illegally obtained her security clearance application, though the U.S. Postal Service said “human error” was to blame for the agency improperly releasing her files.

CLF said another conservative group got the information through a public records request and that they followed the letter of the law in looking into Ms. Spanberger’s background.

House Majority PAC, a super PAC supporting House Democratic candidates, rolled out a new ad Wednesday attacking Mr. Brat as a “D.C. insider” a label Mr. Brat had used to brand Mr. Cantor during the 2014 primary campaign.

“Dave Brat and Washington special interests play their game we get shellacked,” a narrator says in the 30-second spot running in the Richmond and Washington, D.C., markets.

The Brat campaign dismissed the ad as a “joke” and said Ms. Spanberger is “the handpicked candidate of the Democrat establishment.”

“In 2014, Dave Brat won the biggest upset in America because he’s an outsider who told the people of the 7th District that he’d be loyal to them alone. He’s kept his promises,” Ms. Price said.