Ok – place this one in the “never saw it coming” file:
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his GOP Virginia primary race to Tea Party-backed challenger Dave Brat Tuesday night in a stunning upset.
Brat, an economics professor and political novice, latched onto the hot-button issue of immigration, accusing Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the GOP-led House, of supporting immigration legislation that would give “amnesty” to millions of people living illegally in the United States.
“If you go knocking door to door, you’ll know the American people think they’re in trouble,” Brat told Fox News. “It was a miracle. God gave us this win.”
Brat, a Princeton graduate and seminar student who teaches at Randolph-Macon College, a small liberal arts school north of Richmond, attempted to downplay the Tea Party vs. Washington establishment narrative about the race.
He said he enjoyed Tea Party support but was a candidate focused on Republican principles including free markets and “adherence to the Constitution.”
Cantor conceded defeat about an hour after the race was called, confirming the biggest upset victory of this year’s election cycle and a major blow to the core of the GOP.
“It’s disappointing,” he told a small crowd in Richmond. “But I believe in this country. I believe there is opportunity around the next corner.”
Cantor spent close to a million, and millions more in his war chest. In contrast, Brat had just over $200,000. To say this loss came out of left (er, right) field would be the understatement of the 2014 campaign season.
Admittedly, I didn’t pay much – well, any attention, really – to this race, and I don’t think many others did … unless you live in that district and had a stake in the outcome. Needless to say, there was a lot of the “insta-analysis” stuff taking place in the aftermath of Cantor’s shocking loss last night. Many were saying it was a “Tea Party” victory, but upon closer inspection it was noted that the Tea Party spent absolutely zero dollars to help Brat over Cantor. Some said it was proof that Cantor’s approach to immigration reform, which some called “amnesty”, was what did him in with GOP voters in his district. While others suggested Democrat sabotage might have been at play (it doesn’t appear that was the case). Politico offers this take:
National mood, [Brat] said, played a role in his victory.
“I think it was just kind of a perfect combination of when I was walking door-to-door, you just go up to the door and talk to the average person and everybody is in agreement that the country’s on the wrong track, right?” he said, before appearing on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program.
“You just walk up to the door and say, ‘How are you doing?’ and everyone knows we’re on the wrong track. The problem with modern politics is everybody is doing sound bite stuff. In my stump speech, I give 20 minutes on why I think we’re off track. And I think people do really want to engage in a serious high-level discussion on how to get the country back on track because people care about their own country.”
Indeed, Brat did talk about policy in his stump speech. He railed on Cantor for enabling President Barack Obama, said he supported “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and blamed him for lax insider trading rules for lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill.
Brat also got a bit lucky. At the same time he was emerging, Cantor and his political team were angering conservatives by trying to tighten their grip on the Virginia Republican Party. Cantor tried to boost Linwood Cobb, his close ally, for a local Republican Party chairmanship, and failed. It was a loss that most of his aides brushed aside, but caused real ire among tea partiers.
That widespread discontent became evident Tuesday evening. Cantor lost six of the 10 counties in his district, including Henrico County, his longtime political base.
“I honestly thought there was a win when I ran way back in January or I wouldn’t have done it,” Brat said. “I wasn’t doing it to make a statement. I was doing it because I want to serve the people. I thought it, but that’s far different than doing it. So yeah, it’s an absolute shock to actually execute and follow through on it. It was up to the people right? I’m just one person.”
He added: “So what I did couldn’t have made this happen. I was completely dependent on the will of the people in the whole process. They went out knocking doors. We didn’t know if it was going to come to fruition or not. We had no evidence. We didn’t have the money to do fine-tuning polling.”
The challenge for Brat now is to avoid missteps that frequently trip up political neophytes. He and his aides know it. They’re all exhausted, and now have to juggle media requests from all over the country. They have to get a new office, and begin to examine their race against Jack Trammell, the Democrat running for the seat. The district is solidly Republican, though: Mitt Romney won it by 15 points in 2012, and John McCain won it by 12 in 2009.
I don’t know the first thing about Brat, but I’ll assume for purposes of discussion he’s a good guy who wants to do right by the people of his district, and will wish him well – and I also urge the red-faced NRCC after careful assessment to get behind him going forward. The ridiculous statements from Boehner and others last night in response to Cantor’s loss (Boehner’s in particular sounded like a eulogy at a funeral) are sadly indicative of the mindset that typically takes root in politicos who are in so-called “safe districts” or who otherwise routinely get re-elected: they think they “own” the seat. I’m not sure if that’s what Cantor’s view of the VA-07 seat was like, but rest-assured, he and his team are frantically re-assessing what went wrong, how this possibly could have happened. Hopefully – for his sake – they’ll figure it out. And learn from it. In the meantime, Mr. Brat – barring another “miracle” in that district on election day – appears to be headed to Washington.
Ah, politics. Gotta love the surprises, the twists and turns, eh?
Read much more on Cantor’s loss here.
Related: Via the WSJ – Who Is David Brat? Meet the Economics Professor Who Defeated Eric Cantor