A few thoughts on the loss of Eric Cantor.
First, Cantor’s loss isn’t the death of immigration reform in this congress — it’s the death of the pretense that there was a chance Republicans were going to address the issue. Immigration reform was very dead before last night and Cantor was punished for daring to even pretend the GOP’s far right flank was willing to consider some sort of reform.
Second, the shockwaves coming off this rout originate not with the fact that Cantor was a powerful leader in the GOP, but in that money didn’t save him. He outspent his opponent 25:1. There are a lot of people who’ve bought their offices who are scared witless right now.
Finally, there’s a lesson here for other Tea Party insurgents: gerrymandering is your friend. Eric Cantor’s district is drawn around the most conservative voters in his state. But conservatives have become so polarized and partisan that the candidate who’s farthest to the right has the advantage. Gerrymandering may help an incumbent defend against attacks from the left, but it leaves their right flank basically naked.
[Dave Brat is] a political unknown who was outspent 40-to-1. Cantor ran multiple attack ads against Brat, but Brat successfully made his outright hostility to immigration reform the centerpiece of the campaign, accusing Cantor of supporting “amnesty” and putting him on the defensive.
What makes this result even more stunning is that a pair of late polls showed Cantor with considerable leads: An independent survey from Vox Populi had him up 52-39, while Cantor’s own internal from McLaughlin & Associates gave him an even wider 62-28 advantage. But as we noted, McLaughlin is one of the worst pollsters in the business, and boy, did they cement that reputation tonight.
So what happens next? Virginia law appears to forbid Cantor from pursuing an independent bid, though a write-in campaign seems possible. That would be an incredibly humiliating second act, though, and it’s the one move that could throw this seat to the Democrats. Virginia’s 7th District voted 57-42 for Mitt Romney, so without Cantor, Brat will be heavily favored against Democrat Jack Trammel, who, like Brat, is a professor at Randolph-Macon College.