By Lynn R. Mitchell
Majority Leader Eric Cantor was dealt a surprising defeat Tuesday. The rise of the tea party? The fall of establishment?
No, say Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley at the Crystal Ball, headquarters of Dr. Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia’s resident politico (see Cantor’s Fall: The House majority leader’s shocking loss is more an outlier than a harbinger):
Although a primary loss by the House majority leader is a shock — and also unprecedented in American history since the creation of the position in 1899 — it does not come as part of a clear and larger anti-incumbent wave. So far this year, 26 states have held their primaries to determine the nominees for 257 House seats (including the advancing candidates in California’s top-two system) — 59% of the national total. Of the 229 incumbents running again, only two have lost: Cantor and Rep. Ralph Hall, a 91-year-old Republican who would have been renominated if Texas did not have a runoff system requiring winners to get over 50% (just 11 states have some form of runoff system, and nearly all of them are in the South).
Many have wondered if Democratic voters responded to Dave Brat’s invitation to what he called an “open” primary (which was in reality a Republican primary)? The Crystal Ball folks have some statistics to suggest that may be so:
With Virginia’s open primary system, Democrats could attempt to influence the outcome of the race — and it appears that they may have tried to some degree. Virginia has no party registration, so voters can easily vote in a Republican primary one year and a Democratic primary the next.
A precinct-level look at Henrico County (which partially surrounds Richmond), where a little less than a third of the contest’s votes came from, shows some evidence of increased turnout in heavily Democratic districts. Although overall turnout in the Henrico precincts of the Seventh District was up 45% compared with Cantor’s 2012 primary win, nine of the 10 precincts where President Obama won 60% or more of the vote in 2012 had at least a 50% increase in primary turnout; six had at least a 66% increase. … there are indications that Brat was reaching out to Democrats for support, and some may have answered his call.
I talked with about a dozen volunteers who worked the polls Tuesday in Chesterfield County who had seen Democrats stopping by to vote. It reminded of years ago when Rush Limbaugh suggested conservatives vote in the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, declaring it “Operation Chaos,” and encouraging votes for Obama because of the belief that we needed “anyone but Hillary.” Looking back at Obama’s years in the White House, are Republicans happy they listened? I’ve never participated in a Democratic primary, fearing my Democratic neighbors and friends would see me intruding into their political process.
For the local tea party folks who can rightfully hang their hats on this win, the message from Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball seems to be that lightning may not strike twice. Or, as they put it:
The point here is that yes, Cantor’s loss was shocking and notable. It’s the political story of the year, so far. But take a deep breath: These things sometimes happen.
Interesting read … I recommend it.