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Henrico sheriff may take on Rep. Brat for GOP nomination

Jeremy Lazarus | 1/12/2016, 9:22 p.m.
U.S. Rep. David A. “Dave” Brat, R-Henrico, could face a Republican challenger in his bid for a second two-year term ...
Rep Brat, Sheriff Wade

U.S. Rep. David A. “Dave” Brat, R-Henrico, could face a Republican challenger in his bid for a second two-year term representing the 7th District.

Fresh from winning re-election, Henrico Sheriff Michael L. “Mike” Wade filed paperwork before Christmas with the Federal Election Commission setting up a campaign committee.

Despite the move, he indicated his decision to proceed could be decided this weekend when the 7th District Republican Committee decides whether to nominate the party’s candidate by primary or convention. The current districts stretches west from Henrico to rural Orange County and includes a small piece of Richmond.

Sheriff Wade, 59, told the Free Press last month he believes he would face serious difficulty if Rep. Brat notifies the committee he would prefer a convention, where his supporters mostly likely would dominate the proceedings.

A Tea Party favorite, Rep. Brat, 51, won the congressional seat in 2014, after a shocking GOP primary upset of seemingly entrenched Rep. Eric I. Cantor, then the U.S. House majority leader.

Sheriff Wade said, by running, he is not representing Cantor supporters seeking to avenge the loss. One reason he is taking a shot at the higher office, he said, is that he could continue to serve as sheriff and would have to give up his office only if he wins the congressional seat.

He was re-elected in November to his fifth, four-year term as sheriff. He will enter the party nomination contest with a bank of goodwill and high marks for his previous 16 years in operating the Henrico County jail, where he has won plaudits for his efforts to aid inmates and combating recidivism.

Among other things, he has received national recognition for pioneering a 12-step program to assist addicts to change their lives, influencing other jails, including the one in Richmond, to install similar programs.

Sheriff Wade said he believes that his problem-solving approach is what is needed in Congress to end the gridlock.

Among other things, he said he wants to advocate for ways to improve assistance to the mentally ill in jail. That would include, he said, seeking changes in current law to empower family members to have more say about treatment options. Currently, he said, federal law bars family members who lack a medical power of attorney from having a say in the care of an incarcerated mentally ill relative who refuses their aid.

Political observers believe the sheriff will face an uphill climb to get by Rep. Brat, who serves on the House budget, education and small business committees and has been a reliable conservative vote against Obamacare, gun control legislation and the recent budget deal that avoided a government shutdown.

A former economics professor at Randolph-Macon University, Rep. Brat won his first term in November 2014 after easily defeating Democrat Jack Trammell, a fellow professor at the Ashland university.

Rep. Brat is expected to campaign on a record of keeping his promises to adhere to conservative Republican principles and his willingness to challenge his party’s leadership in seeking to change Washington while still being accessible to his constituents.