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Poll: Challenger Spanberger Inches Ahead of Rep. Dave Brat

Democrat takes lead after GOP-aligned group releases her unredacted security clearance info

Republican Rep. Dave Brat is in a tight race with Democrat Abigail Spanberger in Virginia's 7th District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Republican Rep. Dave Brat is in a tight race with Democrat Abigail Spanberger in Virginia's 7th District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The race for Rep. Dave Brat’s bid for a third term in Virginia’s 7th District appears to be tightening, according to a new Monmouth University poll that shows the conservative House Freedom Caucus member trailing former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger by 5 points.

Spanberger captured support from 47 percent of the 400 potential voters pollsters surveyed by phone from Sept. 15 through Sept. 24. Brat garnered 42 percent support among potential voters — which the Monmouth poll characterizes as voters who have participated in at least one election since 2010 or have newly registered to vote (a group that represents roughly nine in 10 of all registered voters in the district).

Spanberger’s lead in the full sample is within the margin of error of +/- 4.9 percent.

A New York Times/Siena College poll of likely voters earlier in September showed Brat with a 4-point lead.

The race  splashed across national headlines in late August after multiple media outlets reported that the United States Postal Service, where Spanberger was an inspector at the agency’s law enforcement branch in the mid-2000s, had improperly released her confidential security clearance form to a Republican political opposition research firm, America Rising.

The USPS Inspector General is investigating the release, Roll Call reported, even after the USPS issued a nostra culpa the day after The New York Times first broke the story.

Neither America Rising nor the Paul Ryan-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund appear from documents obtained and reviewed by Roll Call to have done anything more than file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain Spanberger’s releasable materials. Instead, they were given her full, unredacted Official Personnel File.

CLF released an ad with information from the improper file release questioning Spanberger’s role substitute teaching AP English at the Saudi  royal family-backed Islamic Saudi Academy in Mount Vernon, Virginia, in 2006 as she waited for the CIA and U.S. Postal Inspection Service to process her security clearance applications.

The school earned the nickname “Terror High” after the 2005 class valedictorian later admitted that he had joined al-Qaida and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for plotting to kill President George W. Bush.

It is unclear whether the ad helped Brat or backfired.

Brat was even with Spanberger in an historical model of likely voters in the Monmouth poll, with each at 47 percent.

In a model that factors in a potential turnout surge in Democratic-leaning precincts, Spanberger led, 48 percent to 45 percent, within the survey’s error margin.

Spanberger has polled well in the swath of the district encompassing the Richmond suburbs while Brat has kept his edge in the more rural reaches.

“This is a tale of two districts,” Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.

“The Richmond suburbs that backed Clinton in 2016 support Spanberger while the Trump strongholds are firmly behind Brat. The reason this race is so close right now is because there are more voters in the suburban areas,” Murray said.

Spanberger held a 45 percent to 36 percent advantage in the poll among independents, a key voting bloc in close races.

Brat won re-election in 2016 with 58 percent of the vote. But President Donald Trump carried the seat by just 7 points, a margin several Democratic House candidates have erased in special elections since Trump took office.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race for Virginia’s 7th District Tilts Republican.

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