published Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Cantor lesson for incumbents?

  • photo
    House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., leaves a news conference at the Capitol in Washington after telling reporters he intends to resign his leadership post at the end of July following his defeat in the Virginia primary.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It may be true, as former U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill often pointed out, that "all politics is local," but all congressional incumbents must have felt a quake Tuesday night when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor shockingly lost his Virginia seat to a poorly funded opponent who couldn't even garner major tea party support.

Dr. Dave Brat, an economics professor and department head at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., easily won the Republican primary -- with 56 percent of the vote -- after the majority leader's internal polls had him up 62-28 percent in a late May survey.

Cantor, a seven-term incumbent and the first majority leader ever to suffer a primary defeat, outspent his opponent, who raised just over $200,000, by at least a 10-1 margin.

Brat, shunned by larger tea party groups but supported by those in the 7th District that extends from north of Richmond to outside of Washington, D.C., is not home free and will face a fellow Randolph-Macon professor, Jack Trammell, in the general election in November.

Pundits on Wednesday tried to spin the result in various ways, pointing to a possible large Democrat crossover vote, Cantor's odd painting of his opponent as a liberal, a larger overall turnout, Cantor's support of some immigration reform principles and an energized GOP electorate.

What it ultimately may say is that incumbents should pay strict attention to their district, understand what's really on their constituents' minds and not wander too far off the ranch.

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