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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Eric Cantor's Focus on D.C. Led to His Virginia Defeat - Lack of Personal Appeal in Home District Gave Tea-Party Challenger an Opening

From The Wall Street Journal:

 Majority Leader Eric Cantor never seemed to believe an underfunded tea-party insurgent could topple a congressman in line to become the next speaker of the House.

Mr. Cantor didn't ignore his Republican primary back in Virginia; on the contrary, his campaign blanketed the Richmond airwaves with negative ads branding his conservative opponent, David Brat, as a "liberal college professor." But Mr. Cantor, according to many voters here, never made personal appeals back home to show constituents that their concerns were his own.
Joe Lacy, owner of Lacy's Home Center, a hardware store in Goochland Courthouse, a community in Mr. Cantor's district, said that Mr. Brat didn't win the race—instead, Mr. Cantor lost it. "The local people got tired of him," he said.
"What happened is exactly what should have happened," said James McCready, who works at Brothers N Arms gun store here. "Eric went to Washington and drank the Kool-Aid."
Mr. Cantor, for his part, noted that he was in his home district every weekend. "There's a balance between holding a leadership position and serving constituents," he said Wednesday. "But never was there a day I did not put the constituents of the seventh district" first.

Still, Mr. Cantor appears to have overestimated his power and standing in his community. He waved off last-minute help from outside groups, including the well-funded U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He even spent the early part of the week in Washington, focused on the House leadership position that earned him a national profile, rather than campaigning in Richmond.

In that way, his loss has much in common with the story of other incumbents ousted in recent years. But Mr. Cantor appears to have made some unique missteps, especially with the local tea party in his district.

Other GOP incumbents this year have courted tea-party groups, or at least taken steps not to antagonize them. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a top target of conservative activists, took pains to travel his home state of Kentucky with Sen. Rand Paul, a tea-party icon. Mr. McConnell handily defeated a tea-party-aligned challenger last month.

Mr. Cantor, by contrast, picked fights with conservative activists. His allies organized a statewide effort to remove tea-party supporters from various committees throughout Virginia.

The plan failed, and the activists eventually ousted Mr. Cantor's handpicked district chairman. The move against the tea party, coupled with the wave of negative advertising by Mr. Cantor's campaign, only motivated his critics to send him packing.

"There was major discontent with Eric Cantor," said Jamie Radtke, a leading figure in Virginia tea-party circles who ran for Senate in 2012. She said Mr. Cantor didn't just show "disinterest with what voters thought and felt; it was an animosity for the people he represents."

Mr. Cantor's loss runs counter to the prevailing 2014 Washington narrative in which most Republicans facing a primary fight were able to easily dispatch those challengers, as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham did on Tuesday night despite his role as a lead author of the Senate immigration bill.

Other Republicans still facing races, such as Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Pat Roberts of Kansas, have spent the better part of a year preparing for their primaries, and outside operatives expect both to be safe, even after Mr. Cantor's loss. "I don't believe the circumstances we saw in Virginia are going to be replicated in any other Senate races," said Brian Walsh, a former aide to the GOP's main Senate campaign arm.

While most Republicans said Mr. Cantor's demanding role in Washington contributed in large measure to his loss, there were other issues. For example, no policy fight played a more prominent role in the campaign than immigration. Mr. Brat repeatedly hammered the majority leader for supporting legislation to grant citizenship to people who came to the U.S. illegally as children. The issue animates many conservative voters, who tend to be the most likely to vote in primary elections.

Another factor was a redrawn district, giving Mr. Cantor additional Republican-leaning communities that ended up being where Mr. Brat attracted many of his votes.

Some speculation also emerged that Democrats seeking to topple the No. 2 House Republican may have taken advantage of Virginia's open primary system and voted for Mr. Brat in the GOP primary. But a review of precinct turnout by Michael McDonald, an associate professor at George Mason University, found little evidence to support that premise.

As the primary approached, the Cantor campaign bristled at suggestions the race would result in anything but a blowout for the majority leader. On Election Day, Mr. Cantor's staff viewed the strong turnout as a positive sign, assuming their multimillion-dollar primary campaign had paid off by drowning out Mr. Brat, who raised just $231,000 for his bid. Turnout rose by 38% from 2012, or nearly 18,000 voters.

What they could never fathom was how many of those voters turned out to defeat him.


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