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Webb: In Cantor loss, GOP has opportunity

Greg Nash

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the soon to be former House majority leader and congressman, knows the sting of loss. He was measured at the ballot box and found wanting. His approximately $140,000 per year pension aside, as well as the likelihood he’ll become wealthy as a former congressman and D.C. insider via lobbying, he is now the latest symbol of America’s growing anti-incumbency fervor. 

The post-mortem on this stunning political upset will continue for months, until the general elections in November, including analysis of voting percentages, issues that drove voters, Democrats voting in an open primary system and more. 

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The national Tea Party may have ignored David Brat, who upended the Republican leader, but they are taking credit — and that narrative can become toxic. It was a surge of local grassroots activity and some national attention by radio hosts that helped turn the tide. 

Cantor clearly represented the Washington establishment and interests that apparently didn’t sit well with his district, Tea Party or otherwise. There was and still is, as well, a healthy amount of sentiment that the D.C. insiders were no longer interested in the day-to-day issues that matter to the voters. Add to this the hubris displayed by Cantor in the way he campaigned — or rather didn’t campaign. His staff was arrogant.  

Another factor is the Virginia Republican Party, which has moved in recent years to a more libertarian/conservative state party. The state’s political makeup is complex and not a solid red. Reflect on the Ken Cuccinelli race for governor and this becomes obvious. 

Immigration appears to be the issue that mattered most when it came to the race between Cantor and Brat. In a district that is 70-plus percent white and 17-plus percent black, the remainder of mixed ethnicities, many voters seem to have uniformly decided that jobs is a big issue and an influx of illegals via amnesty would affect an already bad employment situation in and outside Cantor’s district. 

An all too familiar phrase, but one that still rings true: It’s the economy, stupid. Cantor is a D.C. big spender and moments of fiscal brilliance are not enough. Many voters no longer accept failure by all and focus locally on their own. The message to D.C. should be clear. 

It is clearly time for Brat now to make some smart choices and bring in seasoned operatives for the general election campaign. Being the outsider is good for the emotion that carries you in a primary, but in a full-on battle he will need to be up on his policy points and ready for the national media. National media and Democrats, especially the progressive wing, will be unfair, but that’s reality in politics. 

Media training is needed for Brat as well. No more Chuck Todd interviews. They make good fodder for the opponent. A candidate who isn’t ready for prime time will likely be in a pitched defensive battle. That takes away from the focus on message. 

Brat’s team will also have to build coalitions, and there are Cantor allies and D.C. insiders who may not coalesce around him. This is where the Republican National Committee comes into play. It is the group’s defined role to get the GOP candidates chosen in primaries over the finish line. This is also a test for Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman. Can he lead a victory march and not lose a safe seat? The goal is simple: win. 

Brat is running against another professor from the same college. There are questions mounting about his filing when it became apparent Cantor was losing. Don’t count on a technicality. 

The Cantor loss is a bellwether for the Republicans and the voters. There will be others, but few will be so media worthy, due to Cantor’s current position within the party. Can both camps see the forest for the trees and coalesce for the win in November? 

 

Webb is host of “The David Webb Show” on SiriusXM Patriot 125, a Fox News contributor and has appeared frequently on television as a commentator. Webb co-founded TeaParty365 in New York City, and is a spokesman for the National Tea Party Federation. His column will appear twice a month in The Hill.