GOP lawmaker meeting with inmates compares their challenges to negative campaign ads

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) during a visit with incarcerated drug addicts compared their challenges to the negative campaign ads he has faced in his reelection campaign, telling them “nothing’s easy.”

“You think you’re having a hard time,” he said to the inmates as they told him about their struggles finding work and battling addiction, according to a local NPR station. “I’ve got $5 million worth of negative ads coming at me.”


“How do you think I’m feeling?” he asked. “Nothing’s easy. For anybody.” 

Brat, a two-term incumbent, is facing his toughest reelection bid yet against Democrat Abigail Spanberger in the race for Virginia’s 7th District.

“You think I’m a congressman, ‘Oh, life’s easy, this guy’s off having steaks every day,’ ” Brat said to the inmates a Chesterfield County Jail. “Baloney. I’ve got a … daughter, she’s got to deal with that crap on TV every day.”

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He later acknowledged that the incarcerated men and women have it “harder.”

“You’ve got some fierce, real anxiety with coming up with a job or whatever,” Brat said. “And what you’ve got to find is a support system.”

The inmates spoke about the times the criminal justice system has failed them, particularly creating obstacles on their roads to recovery.

One woman, Kelly Howerton, told him about a time that she called the police after finding her friend overdosing on heroin. The police put her in jail, accusing her of giving her friend the heroin.

“I think about it every single day,” she told Brat. “It’s something that will never go away.”

Brat said he supports some reforms, but encouraged the inmates to find “some substitute for drugs.” 

“Get exercise, or academics, reading books, going to the Bible,” he told them.

The sheriff of Chesterfield County Sheriff, Karl Leonard, posted on Facebook that he has been “frustrated” by coverage of Brat’s visit to the jail.

“It is a shame that what was supposed to be a visit to focus on finding solutions to an issue that is killing tens of thousands of Americans a year has turned into a political matter,” he wrote. “I am personally displeased that an issue that I have worked so hard to prevent from being politicized has now ended up being nothing more than just a political football.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE on Thursday morning gave Brat his “total endorsement” in a tweet, calling him a “powerful vote for MAGA.”  

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report currently rates Brat’s race against Spanberger a “toss-up.” The District has been represented by a Republican for nearly 50 years.

— Updated 7:14 p.m.