Long-shot candidates take hope

Greg Nash

Candidates from both parties locked in tough races see Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) shocking primary loss as a victory. 

For long-shot conservative challengers, economics professor Dave Brat’s win, which he called a “miracle,” is a model and evidence that they too could beat the odds on Election Day. 

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Meanwhile, Democrats hope that if Cantor’s defeat kills immigration reform, they can gain the upper hand in several swing districts with growing Hispanic populations. 

Indeed, Cantor’s race has parallels in other contested GOP primaries that have yet to be decided.

Radiologist Milton Wolf’s challenge to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) stalled after reports revealed Wolf posted patients’ X-rays on his Facebook page and appended off-color commentary to the photos.

But like Cantor, Roberts spends much of his time away from his home state, and Wolf has continually hammered the senator on the fact that he no longer owns a house in the state.

“Eric Cantor isn’t the only incumbent from Virginia who is going to lose his primary this year.  On Aug. 5, it’s Pat Roberts’ turn,” Wolf said, a reference to the fact the incumbent spends much of his time at his home in Virginia.

In Tennessee, state Rep. Joe Carr is considered barely competitive against Sen. Lamar Alexander and, like Brat, was passed over by national conservative groups that have backed other primary challengers this cycle.

Carr has made immigration reform a central focus of his attacks on Alexander, accusing the senator, who backed the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last year, of supporting “amnesty.”

In the Tennessee Legislature, Carr led the successful push for stringent immigration reform measures, and the state is now one of the toughest on illegal immigrants. 

He touted his work on the issue Wednesday in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street,” arguing that Cantor’s defeat bodes poorly for Alexander.

“Sen. Alexander has a similar problem that Leader Cantor had in that he’s out of touch with his Republican base in Tennessee,” he said.

Retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness hit similar themes against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the establishment pick in the race to take on Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). On Wednesday, he called Cassidy and the majority leader “two peas in a pod, unable or unwilling to hear the message that their constituents are sending them.”

Still, no polling has shown Wolf or Carr picking up steam. While Maness recently drew a handful of big-name conservative endorsements, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, he’s unlikely to advance out of the all-party primary. 

But the possibility that Cantor’s defeat has stalled immigration reform gave Democrats a political opportunity as well.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said on MSNBC Wednesday morning that the outcome of the primary highlighted the contrast between the two parties. 

“This is a 10 on the political Richter scale, and it is a stunning reminder to the American people of just how extreme, how far to the right and how far out of touch the Republicans in the House of Representatives have moved,” he said.

Amanda Renteria, the Democrat looking to take down pro-reform Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) in a district that’s heavily Hispanic, tied Valadao to Brat and slammed his commitment to reform as “hollow.”

“Congressman David Valadao’s Republican party proved tonight they’d rather play to their base than get serious about passing commonsense immigration reform,” she said in an email to The Hill. “Central Valley voters won’t be fooled by Congressman Valadao’s hollow record of trying to have it both ways — claiming to supporting immigration reform, but refusing to demand a vote on reform and opposing the California DREAM Act.”

Valadao’s campaign accused Renteria, a former Senate chief of staff, of being “fascinated” with the news of Cantor’s loss because she spent much of the last decade living in Washington and said the congressman will stand by his push for reform.

“After living in Washington, D.C. for the last decade, it is no surprise that our opponent is fascinated with the recent news from inside the beltway. However, Congressman Valadao will remain completely focused on securing a reliable water supply for families and farmers in California’s 21st Congressional District and on achieving reasonable, comprehensive immigration reform, regardless of the results of a primary election in Northern Virginia,” campaign manager Tal Eslick said in a statement.

Michael Eggman, the Democrat challenging Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) in another district with a large Hispanic population, said Denham had been “put on notice.”

“Last night’s results were a resounding rebuke to a career politician who talked out of both sides of his mouth on immigration reform,” he said. “Instead of demanding a vote on comprehensive immigration reform, Congressman Jeff Denham has let his key allies like Eric Cantor block it from coming to the floor all while continuing to allow him to pad his campaign coffers — a shameful act of hypocrisy.”

There’s evidence, however, the race wasn’t won or lost entirely on the immigration issue. 

A new survey out Wednesday from Democratic group Americans United showed a majority of GOP voters in the district were in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, and pro-reform Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) easily defeated six primary challengers of his own on Tuesday night.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a conservative star who said he’s still in favor of reform despite Cantor’s loss Tuesday night, admitted even the word “amnesty” could cause trouble for Republicans.

Cantor’s loss is sure to embolden conservatives at the grassroots level, especially as it came exactly one week after the success of Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel in pushing Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) into a primary runoff.

His team sees Cantor’s loss as further evidence of grassroots momentum growing nationwide, and also, in part, a product of McDaniel’s success. 

The candidate in fact touted his role in the Tea Party win, dashing off a fundraising email to supporters Tuesday night, crowing in the subject line: “We just beat Eric Cantor.”