Last month, Tea Partiers in the suburbs of Richmond, Va., kicked out an incumbent chairman of the local Republican Committee and installed their own candidate.
That may not sound like a huge victory, but it could turn out to be the most important indicator of the year for Republican politics. It put U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s future in great peril.
Party activists had turned out Cantor’s own ally over his impassioned pleas to keep the guy. This breathed new life into the longshot candidacy of econ prof Dave Brat, who is seeking to oust Cantor in the primary tomorrow.
Our last dispatch on the race concluded, “In the next month, expect [Cantor] to spend whatever it takes to survive.”
Lo! In that time, Cantor has spent what everybody is reporting as “well over $1 million” and will probably be closer to $3 million, to win this primary fight. That is before we factor in pro-Cantor expenditures by outside groups that would very much like to stay on the Majority Leader’s good side.
Cantor and allies have run anti-Brat television ads, sent out fliers, blanketed the radio waves. The Cantorites have called the Tea Party-favored Brat a “liberal college professor” and accused him, falsely, of backing amnesty for illegal immigrants. (Which, given Cantor’s slipperiness on the subject, takes chutzpah.)
Brat and Tea Party supporters have fired back. They have called Cantor a sellout, a big spender, a crony capitalist, an amnestiac and other names which wound in GOP contests.
The results have been just awful — for Cantor.
In 2012, Cantor put away a primary challenger by 79 to 21 percent. Two weeks ago, a McLaughlin and Associates poll had him leading Brat 62 to 28 percent. Friday, a Vox Populi poll found that lead had narrowed to 52 to 39 percent, reported Breitbart.
The sample sizes of both polls were fairly small, but these numbers are better than the guessing game that prevailed for weeks after Cantor’s ally was defeated.
What we think we know at this point is that Cantor could lose this contest. If he squeaks by, which oddsmakers would call slightly more likely, it will be with a bare majority of the low-turnout primary vote, at great cost, in an election that should have been a lay-up for the six-term incumbent and wielder of great influence.
And if Brat wins? Then all of the pundits, prognosticators and politicians who predicted the death of the Tea Party will have an awful lot of explaining to do.