More is being learned about House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R) primary election loss in Virginia’s 7th CD. As is true for almost all political outcomes, there is more than one answer to explain this result and, not surprisingly, multiple elements contributed to the final conclusion.
While the immigration issue seems to be taking top billing as the principal reason for Cantor losing, in reality, it likely only played a secondary role. The fact that challenger and victor David Brat used the issue to his advantage – characterizing Cantor as supporting amnesty for illegal aliens – certainly helped color the Majority Leader in a negative light, but such a radical final electoral result cannot simply be explained as an extreme reaction to a controversial issue.
Contrast this outcome with that of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R) campaign in South Carolina. Graham was more identified with the immigration reform issue, and hails from a more conservative domain than Cantor’s central Virginia congressional district. Yet, the senator won a surprisingly large re-nomination victory on the same night that Cantor, of course, lost. Therefore, the Graham example helps explain that immigration, in and of itself, was not the defining reason for Cantor becoming the first Majority Leader in US history to lose in his party primary.
While immigration, poor campaign strategy, and unreliable polling most certainly contributed to his loss, redistricting, contrary to many people’s suggestions, did not. Cantor helped draw his own district in 2011, so it’s hard to argue that the district configuration played against the incumbent when the seat was drawn for his maximum benefit. Therefore, it is clear that a more fundamental underpinning had been developing for some time.
Looking at the county and precinct returns, it appears that the incumbent fell victim to losing his connection with the people back home. The heart of Cantor’s district, the area that he’s represented for seven terms in the US House and 10 years in the House of Delegates before his original federal election, turned against him. The farther away from Cantor’s home in the Richmond suburbs the district and campaign traveled – the areas where Cantor was personally less known and whose media campaign didn’t reach – the better he did.
Of the nine counties and one city in Virginia’s 7th CD, Brat carried six, and Cantor carried four. Except for winning the small number of votes cast in the city of Richmond, Cantor’s only victories were in the northern part of his district, the rural areas closer to Washington, DC. In the six suburban and rural counties in and around Richmond, the areas that constitute the Cantor political base, he lost, and in some cases badly. In Hanover County north of Richmond, Cantor only managed to attract 32 percent of the Republican primary votes. In New Kent due east of Richmond, the Majority Leader polled only 37 percent. To the south in Chesterfield County, Cantor managed just 45 percent of the vote.
Understanding this allows us to derive a better explanation for his defeat than immigration, poor strategy, and Democrats crossing over. The empirical data leads us to the conclusion that his base constituents believed he no longer represented them. As is often the case in politics and life itself, failing to execute the fundamentals over the long term will bring failure. Such became Eric Cantor’s fate.
We’ve seen some poor polling already this year – the Cantor campaign survey data is certainly an example – but the latest set of polls coming from the Oregon Senate race suggests that one of these studies is badly missing the mark.
Two moderately sampled polls, taken within a week of one another, are returning radically different results. The first, from public pollster Survey USA (June 5-9; 650 registered Oregon voters), finds Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) leading Republican surgeon Monica Wehby, 50-32 percent.
But the Wehby campaign released an internal poll telling a completely different story. The Tarrance Group (June 1-3; 615 registered Oregon voters) projects their client to be trailing Sen. Merkley only 39-41 percent.
There is a major disconnect between these two polls. For a 20-point swing to exist between two similar surveys in the same time frame suggests that one is an outlier. Electoral history, incumbent advantages, and Wehby seemingly taking a step backward in momentum since the May 20 primary suggests that the S-USA poll is probably closer to reality.