Wednesday, June 11, 2014
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Lost Because He Forgot the Tip O'Neil Axiom: All Politics are Local
Congressman Tip O’Neil was a great Speaker of the House. He was also a wise sage. One of his best incisive advice was “All politics is local.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost reelection in yesterday’s Virginia primary. He formally lost reelection yesterday. He actually lost reelection months, if not years, earlier. The pundits quickly pronounced last night that the Tea Party candidate Ted Brat won in a low turnout election based on an anti-immigration campaign. Wrong on all three counts. Professor Ted Brat may be Tea Party, but the Tea Party, which is not a unitary organization, did not back him with rallies or funds. The Tea party may disagree with Congressman Cantor on a few issues, but he pushes their positions on most issues. Second, it was not a low turnout primary. Professor Brat won 55.5% to 44.5%, a margin of 11%, a landslide in electoral politics with a turnout 40% higher than the 2012 primary. Republicans turned out, but to turn Congressman Cantor out. He underperformed in his strongholds. Congressman cantor received 37,369 votes in the 2012 primary. He garnered 8,500 fewer votes this year, 28,898 in an year of increased turnout. Congressman Cantor had $5 million to spend on his reelection. Professor Brat had show leather. The Professor doorbelled for reelection. The Congressman televised, negative ads. Virginia has an open primary system whereby any voter can vote in either party’s primary. Perhaps Virginia Democrats voted in the Republican primary for the Professor, but no evidence has surfaced to that effect. Immigration played a role, but mostly to reinforce the view that Congressman Cantor was speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He was against broad reform in Virginia, but in favor of it in Washington after the elections. Voters would not let him have it both ways. Immigration is a major issue for some Republicans, but is not by itself a defining electoral issue at this point in the election cycle. We know because Senator Lindsay Graham won renomination yesterday with 57% of the vote against six opponents even though the Senator is a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, often referred to as asylum. Neel Kashkagi won the California Republican primary for Governor two weeks ago over Assemblyman Tim Donnelly. The Assemblyman is highly hostile to illegal immigration and was a founder of the California Minutemen. Immigration was an issue for Professor Brat, but so were the themes of Main Street versus Wall Street, the support of the free enterprise system, opposition to runaway government spending, and the budget deal with the President. His campaign was directed at ”Send a message to Washington.” Congressman Cantor was a Washington insider, and thus part of the problem. Congressman Cantor had lost touch with the increasingly conservative district. He, and his staff, had become arrogant. He criss-crossed the country in support of Republicans and the Republican Agenda, but was perceived to spend little time in his district. So close to DC, but yet so far away when pursuing ambitions at the national level. He failed to campaign in his backyard. All politics is local, even at the national level.