Anti-Beltway sentiments cost Cantor job, analysts and voters say
Had he campaigned at home and spent Election Day there, instead of with lobbyists at a Capitol Hill fundraiser in Starbucks, the outcome might have been different for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, analysts said on Wednesday as his astonishing primary loss sunk in.
Cantor, R-Va., underestimated the anti-Washington sentiment among voters in his 7th Congressional District, said Bruce Haynes, a Washington-based Republican strategist.
“What this race tells me is that people do not care about seniority as an argument for re-election, or how high up you are in leadership,” Haynes said. “They care that who they send to Washington is ‘one of us.' ”
Cantor, 51, who has represented the Richmond suburbs since 2001, said he would step down as majority leader by July 31. He lost on Tuesday by 11 percentage points to political novice David Brat, an economics and ethics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland — believed to be the first majority leader in history from either party to lose his seat in a primary contest, according to the House historian.
“He spent $168,000 on steakhouses, and Brat's campaign spent $200,000 on the whole race,” Haynes said. “The message here is that shoe leather beats steakhouses.”
Most experts had predicted an easy win for Cantor and anticipated he eventually would inherit the speaker's gavel from Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Though some pundits quickly jumped on Brat's accusation that Cantor dragged his feet on immigration reform as a main reason for his downfall, Haynes and others believe Cantor simply became an unpopular leader. He has voted to increase border security and opposed immigration reform measures like the DREAM Act.
In an interview by phone with MSNBC, Brat noted that immigration became an easy stump speech issue but was not the only aspect of his campaign.
“I ran on the fiscal issues and the Republican creed, which starts off with the main thing I'm interested in — and that's a commitment to free markets,” Brat said.
Brat's campaign website pushed the message: “Our founders knew that good government required wise leaders with good character. ... We do have a say in our political system. We do have the power to work together to change course.”
Although seniority and influence can help force passage of legislation to benefit constituents, becoming a Beltway insider ultimately hurt Cantor, said Lara Brown, a political scientist at George Washington University.
Cantor spent much of his time outside of his district, and he crisscrossed the country helping GOP candidates raise money, likely with an eye on becoming House speaker, analysts said. That may have built resentment among his constituents who wanted a congressman who was connected with them, and not the face of the Republican Party or Washington, they said.
Mickey White, 39, whose hometown of Midlothian is in Cantor's district, said she supported and voted for him in the last election but suspected he was heading toward a loss.
“It's important to understand that this has been a long time coming for Cantor,” she said. “I didn't realize until 2009 just how deep the hatred for him was in certain corners of the party.”
White believes the disconnect began with his vote for TARP legislation, the 2008 financial bailout that authorized hundreds of billions of dollars in expenditures. But other issues were more personal for people, she explained: “He didn't hold town halls; he didn't keep appointments.”
White, a founding member of the Richmond Tea Party, has cooled on the movement's activism since the 2010 midterm elections. “My positions haven't changed,” she said, “but I don't know what I would call myself at this point.”
And she is skeptical of Brat because, as a professor, “his life's work is in theory.”
“Brat, at this point, is all well-crafted rhetoric,” White said. “I don't just trust people at their word any more in politics.”
Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers sign former star LB Harrison; Tomlin talks ‘different climate’
- Port Authority: Drivers ‘reckless’ before buses bumped, wrecking 1
- State Sen. Jim Ferlo: ‘I’m gay. Get over it. I love it’
Baldwin-Whitehall substitute teacher charged in child porn case
- Steelers’ Taylor recovering from forearm surgery
- Fox Chapel teen wins $25K scholarship in Google Science Fair
- Coder resigns as football coach at Canon-McMillan
- Pirates notebook: Volquez open to re-signing with team
- Steelers defense must replace 3 injured starters after victory
- Missing boy from Wilkinsburg found in N.C.
- New Frazier superintendent’s main goal: Focus on the students