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Race That's Putting Va. College on the Political Map

ASHLAND, Va. - The 7,000 people who live in Ashland, Virginia, affectionately refer to their town's seven square miles as the "center of the universe."

Now, with two local professors  -- Dave Brat and Jack Trammell -- facing off in the race to replace former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, they're proclaiming Ashland "the political center of the universe."

Brat rocked Washington by knocking Cantor off his perch as House majority leader in the primary. He's a professor at Randolph-Macon, a private college nestled in the center of town.

On Nov. 4, he'll face Trammell, a Democrat who's also a professor at Randolph-Macon.

"I'm the sociologist. Dave, when he gets here, he's the economics guy," Trammell told some dads supervising their kids about to ride in the Midlothian Day Parade just outside of Richmond this month.

"He thought he would be running against Eric Cantor and ended up running against his colleague," Randolph-Macon Provost Bill Franz recalled during a recent interview.
           
Trammell and Brat have known each other for 15 years.
           
"Jack's a nice guy. He works in the disability services wing of the school, does a good job for the kids over there and he's worked in my classes to help my students," Brat told CBN News.

"I characterize us as casual friends," Trammell said. "We would have debates in the locker room or in the lunch room about various things."

The Perfect Lesson
           
Randolph-Macon College is named for John Randolph and Nathanial Macon, congressmen who served more than 200 years ago.

Today, administrators couldn't have planned a better lesson for students who are getting an intimate look as their professors battle it out over ideas in an Oct. 28 debate, hosted by the school.

"They're both wonderful members of our community and that's what characterizes both of them," Franz said.

Since the men got into the race, school pride is registering a little higher.

"I sense it among our students," Franz added. "They walk a little taller; they're happy to proclaim where they are."

"A lot of people are really excited for it," Alex Erwine, a sophomore at the college, said.

Sydney Carpenter, also a student, works at the campus bookstore.

"Lots of people come in and buy the T-shirts and they're all really excited to wear them," she said.

It's also a bumper year for the college Democrat and Republican clubs.

"The cool factor has definitely risen a little bit if you're associated with one of the clubs," student Philip Costello told CBN News.
           
Trammell said it was his students who convinced him to run.

"I require my students at Randolph-Macon to complete service learning and they turned that around on me and said, 'When is your service learning project going to start?'" he said.

Trammell is selling himself as a candidate determined to remove "compromise" from the list of dirty words on Capitol Hill.
           
"So part of what I intend to do is to demonstrate bipartisanship and an ability to work with people who don't think like I do, but we need to be able to get together and solve problems," he said.

Men of Faith

Both candidates are men of faith. Trammell teaches Sunday School at his Disciples of Christ Church. Brat is a committed Catholic. They're both academics, but by all accounts very different.

Brat is an economist who also studied theology, giving him unique credibility when he talks about restoring morality in the budget. In his stump speech he highlights the need to send an economist to Capitol Hill.

"You would hope there would be more (economists) so hopefully we'll be able to get the ball rolling. The federal government is just sort of out of control," Brat said. "You look at Social Security, our entitlement programs are insolvent or bankrupt by 2030."
           
Cantor's old district is unmistakably red. In 2012, Mitt Romney won it decisively over President Barack Obama. However, both candidates have an edge in that voters have already made it clear they want a fresh face.
           
At a recent rally for Brat, Sen. Rand Paul said, "Everybody needs to wake up, not just the Democrats. Republicans too need to wake up."
          
Both Brat and Trammell vow to keep their campaigns positive. Voters have heard that before, but in this race there's a special audience to consider: students.

"We really want to see them exemplify the best of Macon and how they're turning every day kids into the leaders of tomorrow," Costello said.

"I just know that whoever wins it's going to be great for Randolph-Macon," Carpenter said.

Come election night a professor from Randolph-Macon College will be elected to Congress and political science majors will have a major connection on Capitol Hill.

"For one fall we're not donkeys and we're not elephants. We're yellow jackets," Franz said.

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