Paul: Negative ads backfired on Cantor

Greg Nash

Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulLawmaker seeks to investigate Obama's foreign tax compliance law Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears GOP senators hit FBI on early probe of NY bombing suspect MORE (R-Ky.) cautioned against attributing House Minority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorRyan seeks to avoid Boehner fate on omnibus GOPers fear trillion-dollar vote is inevitable Insiders dominate year of the outsider MORE’s (R-Va.) shocking primary loss on Tuesday night to conservative opposition to immigration reform.

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He also said, in a conference call with reporters hosted by Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, that he believes there’s a “way forward” for reform, if proponents are willing to compromise. The potential presidential contender said that everywhere he goes, he tells people he's for reform.

“I think people from different perspectives will paint [Cantor’s defeat] with different conclusions, and that’s the way a lot of politics is, people use it for their own benefit,” he said. “Some people, myself included, think that you can go too far negative, and apparently millions of dollars of negative ads are run and may well have increased the name identification of a lesser-known candidate.”

That lesser-known candidate, economics professor Dave Brat, rocked the political world with his win Tuesday night, which is already reverberating among everything from the makeup of House leadership to the prognosis for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Brat hammered Cantor during the race for what he said was Cantor’s support for “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, charges which Cantor’s camp flatly denied. In the end, the challenger finished 10 points ahead of Cantor after being outspent by nearly $900,000 in the final seven weeks of the race.

While Paul admitted that " 'amnesty' is a word that kind of traps us" and can be problematic for conservatives, he pointed to polling from Democratic group Americans United that indicated a majority of Republican voters in Cantor’s district were in favor of comprehensive immigration reform as evidence that wasn’t the only issue that took Cantor down.

Paul said Brat “had a lot of popular things to say on other issues,” like the debt limit and NSA spying.

And he cited pro-immigration-reform Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) easy defeat of six primary challengers Tuesday night as evidence the issue isn’t the silver bullet some have made it out to be in the wake of Cantor’s loss.

“I think the two different elections show you that maybe the issue isn’t the paramount issue, so it’s really kind of hard to draw complete conclusions just on the one issue,” he said.

Most proponents of reform believe Cantor’s loss will paralyze any centrist House Republicans who were moving toward backing a proposal and freeze any talks in the House. Paul said he had heard informal talks were in the works, but he had few details on them.

While he didn’t vote for the Senate package that made it through the upper chamber last year — because, he said, he didn’t think anybody wanted his vote because “they never asked me for my suggestions" — Paul said passage of reform was still possible. He proposed taking control of border security away from the White House and giving Congress the ability to vote on whether needs at the southern border are being met each year.

“There could be a pathway forward,” he said. “[In the House] there’s an entrenched group that won’t vote for anything, but there’s also a group in the middle, and I consider myself a part of it, that if the border was secured first and it’s a conservative solution, then we could possibly support it.”