Anything can happen at political conventions. That was evident in the 2013 Virginia Republican State Convention with the candidates that were elected to represent the GOP on November’s ballot. It was again proven at Saturday’s 7th Congressional District Convention when backers of Fred Gruber, head of the Louisa County tea party, turned out to vote for him as chairman over long-time Republican volunteer and incumbent Linwood Cobb.
The glee from those who orchestrated Saturday’s upset win as well as those who voted against Cobb may be short-lived, however, because the bottom line is that Eric Cantor is a very popular congressman in his district.
A good example is Cantor’s annual breakfast, an event that has grown every year and had 1,700 supporters in attendance this past February. Those who turned out included the business community, leaders in the area, high school government students, legislators, and others who heard from not only Cantor but also Congressman Paul Ryan. The popular breakfast, a who’s who of Virginia Republicans and the third largest GOP gathering in the Commonwealth, has outgrown the Convention Center’s ballrooms and now takes place in the main convention area. The only two events larger are Eric Cantor’s annual Republican Roundup held each fall in Henrico, and the Republican State Convention.
It’s a success record unmatched by other congressional districts in the Commonwealth. Congressman Cantor has spent years recruiting conservative candidates, raising money for the GOP, and working his way up the leadership ladder. Today he is Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, doing what Gruber’s supporters say they want accomplished but his hard work obviously does not satisfy them.
During Saturday’s convention, as Cantor tried to address the audience, his voice was drowned out by boos, jeers, and shouting from Gruber supporters that left looks of dismay among many long-time Republicans. Cantor’s confrontations with President Obama over the dreaded Obamacare that tea partiers profess to hate put him squarely in Obama’s line of fire which was acted upon when Obama took his presidential motorcade to Richmond several times and spoke out against Cantor, slamming the Congressman in his own back yard. (See my 2010 Washington Examiner post about one of Obama’s Richmond visits.) On Saturday, however, his efforts mattered little to tea partiers.
The rudeness of some Gruber followers has been noted by Cantor supporters and word is spreading throughout the district. Saturday’s behavior basically showed that Cobb and Cantor’s records of achievement would not satisfy the tea party-libertarian faction because their goal was obviously the pursuit of power while conceding their principles (see “Tea Party: Why the take-over of GOP and not Democratic Party?”). Case in point: During the vote for temporary chairman, Linwood Cobb’s choice won by just five percent over a guy most of the room didn’t even hear the name of in the midst of shouting on the floor. That wasn’t a principled stand but rather a demonstration of the grasp for power and settling long-standing grudges.
Indeed, the tone had been set by tea party favorite Dave Brat running against Cantor who said, “Notice I have NOT addressed Mr. Cantor as ‘Representative Cantor’, because I do not feel he properly represents us, in many ways!” and Mr. Gruber who famously noted, “I’m sure he’d like the glory of continuing to be district chair and driving that big black SUV that’s parked out front with the VA7GOP license plate on it. Looks like a government Nazi car. Eric Cantor drives one. Secret Service drives them. Big black, you’ve seen it, obviously, in some kind of government film.”
I noted some observations from Saturday: 1) the vote for chairman was close; 2) conventions, with their sometimes contentious atmospheres and long, drawn-out hours of parliamentary wrangling, tend to alienate all but the most determined activists; 3) primaries with their easy voting availability often produce results that are polar opposites from conventions. Fellow bloggers Justin Higgins and DJ McGuire have additional thoughts.
On June 10, the 7th Congressional District primary will pit the well-respected Eric Cantor against tea party favorite Dave Brat. The results will not mirror what occurred at Saturday’s convention.