Political Washington is abuzz — and in shock — because last night’s Virginia primary produced one of the most stunning election upsets in congressional history. Tea Party candidate Dave Brat won 55.5 percent of the vote, handily defeating the powerful incumbent, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
With that buzz comes a lot of speculation — and guessing — about the impact on the rest of 2014, both at the ballot box and under the Capitol dome. These are the five most pressing questions:
1. Who will replace Cantor now that he has said he will step down as House majority leader?
Here are the top contenders: Leading the pack is the current number 3, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, a conservative favorite, issued a statement today saying that some colleagues are asking him to run and that it’s a decision he is "prayerfully considering.” And House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas is already campaigning for Eric Cantor's slot.
Jim Jordan of Ohio and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State (a key Boehner ally) are also known to be among those considering throwing their hats in the ring. The list goes on to include Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Peter Roskam of Illinois.
The fact that so many are interested in taking Cantor’s seat tells us something: it's a rare opening. Plus, there's the thought that Speaker Boehner is leaving soon, so it could in essence be a vote to pick the next speaker.
2. Is this now just a fight for the majority leader spot or will there be a full revolt?
Many considered Cantor a top contender to replace Boehner as Speaker of the House. But will restless conservatives decide NOW is the time to push for a full leadership shakeup — including a new Speaker? Most veteran Hill observers don’t believe the upstarts have the votes. But it’s a delicate moment — another one — for Boehner.
3. Is President Obama’s 'year of action,' as he promised in his State of the Union address, now officially finished?
It was unlikely that Republicans would strike major compromises with the president before the election anyway. Now, forget about it. Compromise with this administration might as well be a four-letter word for the GOP grassroots. Executive actions are the president’s only way to move the ball.
4. Is Cantor's loss isolated or the signal of a sudden Tea Party awakening?
For most of 2014, the Republican establishment has been winning — so much that it has been called “The Establishment Strikes Back” campaign. Now what?
There are still several primaries left throughout the country. But in this race, the margins and the money are key. Brat ran a grassroots campaign, relying for the most part on state and local activists. The economics professor raised just over $200,000, while Cantor raised $5.4 million. But the takeaway is this: Cantor lost more than Brat won.
Brat received 36,110 votes, which is less than Cantor won with in 2012. With roughly 65,000 people voting (up from 47,037 two years ago), turnout was higher than expected. According to the State Board of Elections, Cantor received nearly 8,500 fewer votes in last night’s primary election than he did in 2012, a drop that was bigger than Brat's 7,200-vote margin of victory. These numbers are far cry from the 79 percent who voted for Cantor in his 2012 primary.
The smugness of Cantor didn’t help his campaign either. According to The Washington Post, his own internal polling showed him with a 34-point lead over Brat just last month. The incumbent and his team misread the district and got outhustled. That doesn’t necessarily translate elsewhere, but it will give anti-establishment candidates a morale boost, and maybe bring some fresh contributions to forgotten underdogs.
5. Will politicians finally realize that Dorothy taught us the most important lesson in American politics? Yes — there's no place like home.
And Eric Cantor didn't even need to click his heels to get there.
Brat ran a similar race to Matt Bevin in Kentucky. Both campaigned on the idea that their district needs someone who will fight for them, not a Washington big shot. The difference, however — and one of the main reasons Cantor lost and Mitch McConnell won — is that McConnell goes home, and often. And he took the challenge seriously from day one. Cantor doesn't and didn’t.
Geography makes Cantor’s misstep all the more ridiculous. His soon-to-be former district stretches from Richmond to the Washington suburbs. Cantor didn't even go home on Election Day, opting instead to meet with lobbyists in Washington.
Or, at least, pretend to. Cantor did little of either. And his priorities in recent years did not go unnoticed in Virginia. Namely, his focus on raising money — along with his national profile — left many back home feeling ignored. Payback is, well, you know…
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