From Chris Stirewalt at Fox News First.
Sounds to me like the healthy working of the democratic process. Consider this: Eric Cantor raised $5.4 million this election cycle, the winner, Dave Brat, just north of $200,000.
A lavish mythology has already arisen around the shocking defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who despite a 28-to-1 cash advantage, a late-game media blitz and 13 years of incumbency, lost to an economics professor at a small college in the district. To know what happened, we first ought to know what didn’t happen.
Myth – Cantor was upended in a low-turnout election by a small number of tea party radicals.
Reality – The results in Cantor’s defeat, the first-ever primary loss by a sitting House majority leader saw a marked rise in turnout from 2012: a 28-percent turnout increase from the presidential-election year. You may feel free to lament the poor levels of American civic involvement, generally. But this is not a case of low-turnout electoral distortion.
Myth – A wave of immigration outrage among downscale voters in lower-income rural and far suburban precincts overwhelmed Cantor’s complacent electoral base in upper-income precincts in and near Richmond.
Reality – Immigration seems to be the chief animating issue here, but this was not blue-collar versus white-collar voters. Turnout was up fairly uniformly across the district, including the affluent sections of Cantor’s home county of Henrico, which the majority leader lost too. From precincts with median incomes near the poverty line in places like rural Louisa County to those nibbling strictly upper crust in the West End of Richmond, the electorate was energized and not digging the incumbent.
Myth – Democrats crossed over in Virginia’s non-partisan primary to do mischief and sabotage the stronger Republican candidate to improve their chances in the fall.
Reality – There is no evidence of any chaos operations here. While turnout was up in every part of the district, the increase lagged in the most Democratic neighborhoods, with the City of Richmond up 22 percent compared to Republican strongholds like Goochland County which jumped 28 percent. Plus, Democrats have slim hopes of winning the district, which leans heavily Republican, this fall. Cantor is all but certain to abide by voters’ wishes and the state party has already blessed Brat’s candidacy. The incentive for mischief was low. And with a 10-point margin of victory, any disingenuous Democrats would be strictly background noise.
Myth – The race was another battle in the national civil war between the tea party and the Republican establishment.
Reality – New nominee Dave Brat got a big boost from talk radio heavy hitters like Mark Levin, but this was a very local election. While tea party groups are stampeding to Richmond to lay claim to Brat’s success, they’re late in coming. Brat had zero backing from any of the national groups that are forever raising money for their fight against the GOP old guard. Brat is certainly more conservative than Cantor, but he hardly fits the preferred national narrative.
[“It wasn’t a contest between the tea party and the Republicans and all this. Although I had tremendous tea party support and just wonderful people in the tea party grass roots helping me out, and they’re clearly responsible for the win, but I ran on the Republican principles.” – Dave Brat on “Hannity.” Watch full interview here.]
SO WHAT THE HECK DID HAPPEN?
Eric Cantor has an impressive national organization, deep pockets and has successfully helped shift the national GOP’s thinking on a host of issues other than immigration. But if the folks at home are fed up with business as usual, look out. This race has already been over interpreted and that will only get worse. But just remember what Dave Brat’s key pitch was: he ran as Cantor’s “term limit.” Americans of all stripes are deeply fed up with the status quo in Washington, and while Cantor’s flip-floppery on immigration certainly provided rocket fuel for the effort to oust him, his role as the face of the GOP establishment in general was a huge hindrance.
Veering, sneering – Cantor made several mistakes, ignoring the challenge, then turning bitterly negative in the closing weeks. It was a sour message compared to those of sweetly successful incumbents like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who emphasized the commonalities he shared with his rivals and asked for mercy on disagreements. Graham won easily last night as an avowed moderate in a very conservative state. Cantor wasn’t a straight shooter. He attended a retreat for an anti-tea party group led by former Rep. Steve LaTourette this spring and was clearly part of an effort to beat back the conservative insurgency. But as his own race appeared to grow more competitive, Cantor suddenly shifted. He deep-sixed immigration and vowed no action this year. But then, after his pollsters erroneously declared him safe, Cantor flipped back the other way with approving words for legalizations for limited groups of illegal immigrants. Veering and insincere-sounding, Cantor wrongly believed that his clout, incumbency and money would be enough.