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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Big Noise from the Old Dominion

All those pundits and GOP establishmentarians who pronounced the tea party dead have some ‘splainin’ to do in the scorched aftermath of the Republican primary that dumped House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from his seat in Virginia’s 7th congressional district.
Tea party candidate Dave Brat trounced Cantor, 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent, in a “shockingly lopsided” vote. As the Richmond Times Dispatch reported Cantor’s defeat:

“This is one of the most stunning upsets in modern American political history,” said Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “This is the base rebelling against the GOP leadership in Washington as represented by Eric Cantor.”
“I’m as stunned as anybody,” Sabato said. “I’ve yet to find one person nationally or in the state outside the Brat circle who thought Cantor would be beaten.”

From another perspective in the Times Dispatch report: “I can’t believe that the voters in the 7th District would trade Number 2 and possibly Number 1 in Congress for Number 435 and that shocks me,” said Mike Woods, a longtime Cantor supporter.” Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said “If ever there was any doubt, tonight’s results prove that extremists have taken over the Virginia Republican Party. Eric Cantor tried to cater to hard-core conservatives, but he failed.”
It looks like Brat’s campaign had excellent GOTV. As Nate Cohn put it at the Upshot, “Turnout was not unusually low: More than 63,000 votes have been counted so far, up from around 47,037 in 2012.” According to this map, it appears Brat’s superior GOTV in the exurbs north of Richmond did the trick.
Pollsters didn’t do too well on this one, as Cohn reports: “…One survey conducted for the Daily Caller by Vox Populi, a new Republican firm, showed Mr. Cantor just over 50 percent and ahead by 12 points. News media accounts suggested that Mr. Cantor’s campaign was confident, and one internal poll showed he had a 34-point advantage.”
Cantor’s huge financial advantage counted for little. If there was a pivotal issue it would likely be immigration, as the Times Dispatch reports:

Brat, dwarfed by Cantor in spending, drummed home the immigration issue, accusing the incumbent of favoring “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Cantor denied the charge, saying only that children of illegal immigrants should not suffer because their parents brought them into the country…”Everybody agrees that if immigration reform was on life support before, they’re pulling out the plugs,” because no other Republican wants to lose as Cantor did, Sabato said.

If Republicans had dismal prospects for winning Latino votes in 2014, Dems will likely trumpet Brat’s victory as a clear indication that the GOP is moving toward an even more reactionary position with respect to immigration.
The district, which stretches from western Richmond northward to the outskirts of Warrenton (about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C.), northeastward to outer Fredricksburg and northwestward to the ‘burbs of Charlottesville, has been Republican since 1981. VA-7 is redolent with early American and Civil War history, and includes some of George Washington’s childhood stomping grounds.
As currently configured, the district is 74.3% White, 17.1% Black, 4.9% Latino, 3.9% Asian, 0.3% Native American/Alaskan, and 2.1% “other,” according to 2010 Census data. Romney won it with 57 percent to Obama’s 42 percent of votes cast in 2012. Cantor himself won with 58 percent of the votes in the same year.
It will be a tough race for Democrat John “Jack” Trammell, a Randolph-Macon College professor like Brat, and author and father of seven. Charlie Cook gives the district a R+10 “partisan voting index” rating. Yet anything north of Richmond is increasingly fair game for Dems, as D.C. cosmopolites and workers in the state’s exploding high tech corridor along I-95 search for affordable housing.

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