SPOTLIGHT

Cantor’s Defeat Spooks House GOP

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) makes remarks during a news briefing at the U.S. Captiol March 25, 2010 in Washington, DC. Cantor said that leaders from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have turned threats against Democrats who voted for the health care reform package into a political issue.
National Journal
Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
June 11, 2014, 7:45 a.m.

There are three ways to look at House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor‘s (R) stun­ning primary de­feat Tues­day in VA-07: short-term, me­di­um-term, and long-term. We’ve tried them all in the last few hours.

— In the short run, Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bents are go­ing to get jumpy. There just isn’t as much safety in “safe seats” any­more. Can­tor may be just the second in­cum­bent to go down, but as we’ve noted earli­er, mem­bers are fin­ish­ing be­low 60% in their primar­ies with in­creas­ing fre­quency. (While every­one was watch­ing Mis­sis­sippi last week, for ex­ample, Rep. Le­onard Lance (R-NJ) quietly won his primary by just 8 points.) Rep. Doug Lam­born (R-CO) is one of sev­er­al in­cum­bents in up­com­ing primar­ies who’ve had past primary struggles; look for an up­tick in activ­ity from them to avoid be­com­ing the next big sur­prise as Can­tor gets their at­ten­tion.

— In the me­di­um term, nervous in­cum­bents prob­ably means le­gis­lat­ing will prob­ably be a quiet busi­ness the rest of the year, and maybe bey­ond for the House GOP ma­jor­ity. Es­pe­cially giv­en Dave Brat‘s (R) fo­cus on im­mig­ra­tion, any move­ment on that is­sue looks es­pe­cially un­likely (even though Sen­ate “Gang of 8” co-au­thor Lind­sey Gra­ham (R) breezed through his SC primary Tues­day).

— It’s dif­fi­cult to ascribe po­ten­tial long-term ef­fects to a single House primary, though the first-ever primary de­feat for a House ma­jor­ity lead­er will ripple the pond more than most. The situ­ation points to a dis­con­nect between true “tea party” grass­roots en­ergy and the na­tion­al “tea party” groups that didn’t glance twice at this race (but will prob­ably raise lots of money off Brat’s vic­tory). And the pun­ish­ment doled out to Can­tor for not re­main­ing in touch with his grass­roots base high­lights a loom­ing is­sue for 2016 pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates who are already spend­ing a lot of en­ergy woo­ing big-money donors.

This doesn’t even get in­to the in­tern­al polit­ics of re­pla­cing Can­tor (and pos­sibly oth­ers) in House GOP lead­er­ship. But his de­feat has im­plic­a­tions throughout na­tion­al polit­ics.
— Scott Bland

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