Barely three weeks to primary election day, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor faces a Republican insurgency that could boot him off Capitol Hill.
While wielding party power in Congress, the seven-term lawmaker suffered a setback back home last weekend when a key ally was ousted as district chairman.
Dave Brat, Cantor’s opponent in the 7th Congressional District, mocked him for failing to participate in a debate, fueling the perception Cantor has become disengaged from his constituents.
“Eric has never held town hall meetings,” Brat proclaimed in an interview with this reporter.
Brat beat Cantor in a straw poll at the Richmond convention on Saturday, 71% to 29%.
“There was energy in the room,” said Brat, who predicted “people will turn out” in significant numbers for the June 10 party primary.
In recent statewide races, tea party-backed candidates have fared poorly during general elections, but in a highly conservative district like Central Virginia’s CD7, Brat is not tarred with the “extremist” label.
Rather, Cantor has attempted to paint his opponent, a Randolph-Macon College economics professor, as an “ivory tower” elitist. Brat has branded Cantor as an establishment “crony” who has strayed from conservative values.
“Cantor has to take this seriously,” said Steve Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington:
If only the angry voters turn out, it will be trouble for him. This is the most excitement the district will see all year.
Tom White, who edits the political website Virginia Right, said Republicans are incensed by Cantor’s campaign tactics.
White recalled how Cantor’s team attempted to “slate” delegates at an earlier Virginia Beach convention:
Slating is the process of taking away the votes of a large number of delegates and giving them to a handful of hand-picked individuals. In the Virginia Beach case, more than 1,000 delegates had their votes stripped away and given to 34 people handpicked by the Cantor team.
The action was overturned on appeal.
In Richmond, Cantor forces bought up all the meeting rooms in the host hotel, but it was all for naught, as district chairman and Cantor protege Linwood Cobb was defeated by Brat ally Fred Gruber.
“People are angry at being used and abused. The blowback on Cantor has been massive,” White said.
Amid booing and heckling on Saturday, Cantor appeared defensive on stage.
“He shrank as a politician the longer he spoke,” former state chairman Patrick McSweeney told Breitbart News.
Cantor’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Geoffrey Skelley, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the district chairmanship vote shouldn’t be taken as a signal Cantor is “doomed”:
Conventions are typically populated by the most die-hard partisans, and the most active part of the Republican base today includes a large number of tea party supporters. So it’s not actually that stunning that the establishment-backed candidate lost in such a setting.
Second, Cantor is an incumbent and just 2 percent of House incumbents seeking re-election have lost primaries since 1946.
Cantor is still a favorite to win renomination as well as re-election in November.
Read more by Kenric Ward at Watchdog.com.