Eric Cantor’s stunning defeat on Tuesday came even as the national tea-party groups basically sat out the race, spending less than $10,000 against the soon-to-be former majority leader.
“The tea-party groups weren’t helping,” complained conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Fox News shortly after Cantor’s defeat.
Instead, Cantor was toppled by underfunded Randolph-Macon College economics professor Dave Brat on the strength of local conservative grassroots activists and the megaphones of some leading conservative commentators, including Ingraham and fellow radio host Mark Levin.
The total outside spending against Cantor included a mere $905 from Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, which is opposed to immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, and $7,800 from the We Deserve Better PAC.
The fact that the No. 2 Republican in the House could be defeated even without the intervention of the nation’s biggest tea-party groups is a sign of the movement’s power, said Sal Russo, chief strategist for Tea Party Express, which was not involved in the race.
“The strength of the tea party is that it is a grassroots movement, and there are 3,000 tea-party groups, and they each make their own decisions,” Russo said in an interview. “They can strike anywhere. It’s not dependent on a top-down direction.”
Still, Ingraham, who campaigned for Brat in the Richmond-area Virginia district, called out a laundry list of national tea-party groups for their failure to help him. “I don’t believe any of these organizations did anything for David Brat,” she said on Fox. Ingraham, specifically called out Jenny Beth Martin, who heads Tea Party Patriots, saying Brat “couldn’t get her on the phone.”
In an extensive interview with National Journal earlier Tuesday, Martin did not mention the Cantor race as among the tea party’s top opportunities in 2014. Hours after his defeat, however, Martin issued a triumphant statement congratulating Brat and “the local tea-party activists who helped propel him over the top.”
“This victory is a referendum on the establishment that has gone along with policies that have completely left out the voice of the people,” she said. “This is the people’s house and we are reclaiming it for the people.”
Update: Martin said in a statement Wednesday that Ingraham is incorrect. Martin said that she and Tea Party Patriots staff met with Brat in May but that they decided to focus their resources on Senate races.