How Cantor Lost in Virginia, and What’s Next

The irony of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA-7) losing his primary election last night when several hundred miles to the south Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), long known for his trouble within the Republican base, would defeat a field of six opponents with 56 percent of the vote, must be acknowledged. Even as late as yesterday, most people would not have believed such a predicted outcome. Yet, it happened.

Cantor lost for varying reasons. First, his perceived position of supporting amnesty as part of the immigration issue proved a lightning rod against him within the conservative base.

Second, the majority of his central Virginia Republican electorate clearly believed he is part of the problem in Washington.

Third, the campaign strategy of attacking opponent David Brat as a liberal clearly backfired and was ill-advised. It is unlikely that painting someone who hails from the Tea Party as a “liberal” would carry any credence with a voter who pays attention. Knowing that the turnout would be low – and it was, 65,000-plus GOP voters – a more interested and motivated voter becomes the prototypical individual to cast a ballot, thereby making such an argument more difficult to sell.

Fourth, it became apparent that the Majority Leader had lost touch with the core Republican base that originally elected him. Still, this is a shocking outcome and the first time in electoral history that a major party congressional leader was denied renomination.

Many questions must be answered. Though Cantor cannot legally gain ballot access in 2014 as an Independent, will he run in the general election as a write-in candidate? Assuming he accepts his fate, will he soon resign as Majority Leader, thus forcing a new election for his party leadership position right in the middle of national campaign season? And, has Eric Cantor’s political career come to an end?

These questions will soon be answered, but whether it comes this year or next, an open race for Majority Leader will commence. With Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23) commonly viewed as the most vulnerable member of the leadership team, but someone who will likely run for the Majority Leader’s position, all of the major races with the exception of Speaker will then be wide open and hotly contested.

Last night’s event caught the entire political world by surprise. Polling, most specifically the released McLaughlin Associates poll for the Cantor campaign that showed the Majority Leader ahead 62-28 percent in the closing days, badly missed predicting the race’s outcome. With Brat being outspent 40:1 by counts that add the outside expenditures to the overall campaign budget, it appeared that the challenge to Cantor would fall short. In the end, it was Cantor’s campaign operation that badly misjudged the political situation and their opponent, which resulted in implementing a flawed strategy.

The Democrat’s nominee is Randolph Macon College professor Jack Trammell. He teaches at the same school as Brat, which should make for an interesting general election. The 7th District is heavily Republican so, barring a mistake-laden campaign, the new GOP nominee begins as the favorite to win the general election.

Other Primary News

Up Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia, former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer easily captured the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, which is tantamount to winning the seat this November. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA-8) is retiring.

In other states, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and appointed Sen. Tim Scott easily won their Republican nominations. The only two members of the House delegation to draw primary challenges, representatives Joe Wilson (R-SC-2) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC-6), both were easily renominated. Wilson notched 82 percent in his GOP primary; Clyburn, 86 percent for his Democratic nomination.

In Maine, state Sen. Emily Cain easily outdistanced state Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson to claim the Democratic nomination in the open 2nd District. For the Republicans, ex-state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin defeated former two-time congressional nominee and state Senate President Kevin Raye. Now, Poliquin and Cain square off in the heavily Democratic district, where she will be favored.

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