Big, big, big news tonight out of the Old Dominion: John Boehner’s second in command in the House Republican caucus, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, appears to have unexpectedly lost his seat in Congress.
Election results out of Virginia show that Republican voters in today’s low turnout primary are heavily favoring Cantor’s Tea Party challenger David Brat, who criticized Cantor’s record and promised to take a hard line against comprehensive immigration reform if elected. As of 5:20 PM Pacific Time, with two hundred and twenty-two hundred and forty-three precincts reporting, the results were as follows:
Eric I. Cantor: 44.62% (26,906 votes)
David A. Brat: 55.38% (33,401 votes)
To call Brat an underdog would be an understatement.
He had only around $40,000 cash on hand at the end of March, whereas Cantor has been campaigning with a multimillion dollar war chest.
But Brat nevertheless managed to capitalize on dissatisfaction with the Republican establishment to eke out the most surprising of victories.
Cantor ran multiple attack ads against Brat, but Brat successfully made his outright hostility to immigration reform the centerpiece of the campaign, accusing Cantor of supporting “amnesty” and putting him on the defensive.
What makes this result even more stunning is that a pair of late polls showed Cantor with considerable leads: An independent survey from Vox Populi had him up 52–39, while Cantor’s own internal from McLaughlin & Associates gave him an even wider 62–28 advantage. But as we noted, McLaughlin is one of the worst pollsters in the business, and boy, did they cement that reputation tonight.
“Obviously, we came up short,” a disappointed Cantor said to his supporters at his election night gathering, which appeared to have turned into a very somber affair. “I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight, and I know it’s disappointing, sure.”
He did not concede or acknowledge his opponent in his remarks.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has what’s called a sore loser law, prohibiting Cantor from running as an independent to hold his seat. Cantor thus has no way of appearing on the November ballot, as he sought the Republican nomination in the 7th District, but didn’t get it. His only option, if he wanted to keep his seat, would be to run as a write-in candidate, like Lisa Murkowski did in Alaska in 2010.
Murkowski did win her write-in campaign, but she had a lot of help from Alaska’s many Native American tribes, which rallied behind her and helped her overcome Joe Miller. Were Cantor to run as a write-in candidate, he might just end up siphoning enough votes away from Brat to allow Brat’s Democratic opponent to win.
I’ve already heard this election being called an “earthquake”; but I think that’s a bad analogy. Earthquakes are a natural phenomenon. Elections are not. Elections are a human invention and are decided by humans.
Look at the number of votes above. More people live in the City of Kirkland, Washington, than have voted so far in his primary. This was a primary election decided by a relatively small number of people.
Will it have consequences? Of course it will. It will likely increase the strength and clout of the zealous, uncompromising Tea Party faction within the House Republican caucus… the same faction that shut down our federal government last fall.
Of course, it’s worth remembering that Cantor was on better terms with that faction than John Boehner was, more often taking their side.
“The Tea Party is so angry it doesn’t even like its own puppet,” said Ari Melber, reacting to the news of Cantor’s defeat on MSNBC.
Cantor’s loss will also probably destroy whatever willingness or enthusiasm there was for comprehensive immigration reform within the caucus.
Brat’s general election opponent, Democrat Jack Trammell, declared himself ready for a spirited, lively campaign in a statement issued through the Democratic Party of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“I am honored and humbled to accept the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. I am running because I believe Virginians are hungry for a radical change from the dysfunctional and reckless politics being practiced by those in Congress – and the results of tonight’s primary election are the proof.
“In the coming months, I look forward to a spirited campaign where can talk about the issues that matter to our community, and how we can get Congress re-focused on the priorities that truly matter to us,” Trammell concluded.