I am gobsmacked over the national dialog about the results of the primary election for congress in Virginia’s 7th district. Eric Cantor, the current house majority leader and until this week the most significant candidate for the next Speaker of the House, lost to a local conservative college economics professor David Brat. This lost came despite pollsters predicting Cantor’s victory by a margin from 15% to 30%.
I am not shocked that he lost. I am amazed that it is being treated as if it is a national referendum. In today’s New York Times the lead editorial headline is “In G.O.P., Far Right is Too Moderate.” A headline above the fold in the same paper reads, “Divided G.O.P. Sees Promise and Risk in Primary Upset.”
Let’s put the results in perspective. There were a total of 65,000 voters who participated in this primary election. Of those 65,000, 36,000 voted for the “underdog,” Mr. Brat. So all this national hubbub is the result of 36,000 voters casting a single vote. The district has about 758,000 eligible voters. In the last election, 381,000 of them voted with 223,000 of those voters going for Cantor. So the results of this primary was not the beginning of the establishment of some grand national platform, it was the result of people going to Starbucks for their Venti Skim Latte’ and a crumb cake rather than the voting booth.
The result of this primary has nothing to do with ideology. It has little to do with any grand lesson. It has everything to do with a poorly structured campaign that ignored that the main objective was getting people to the polls, not convincing voters that Cantor was the more qualified candidate. Look, it’s a primary where all that was being said in the weeks leading up to the election was that Cantor was going to win by a landslide. Given that, even I would probably choose to get to work early over being able to sport the “I voted” sticker on my lapel.
It is no surprise that the Democrats are promoting this as a major rift in the G.O.P. Certainly it is not surprising that they are using this to indicate that there is a resurgence of the dreaded Tea Party. The Republicans reaction to the election results is what’s most troubling. They should be smarter. They should be educating the public that it was a fluke that has no impact other than to teach them that primary elections are important. There was no message other than voters are inherently lazy, especially in primary season.
There was no national support of David Brock. While voters sympathetic to the Tea Party voted for him, he had no support from any national organization. He had no big money backing as indicated by his staggering low $200K of campaign spending. The Republican Party should be spending its time providing perspective to its constituents rather than backpedaling on positions taken on immigration reform and other significant social issues.