upset in the seventh

11 Jun

To my friends next door in Virginia’s 7th congressional district, I offer qualified congratulations for your district’s defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor in yesterday’s Republican primary. Rep. Cantor wasn’t particularly good the country, or for his district, and thanks to the results of this election, Mr. Cantor’s ambition of one day becoming Speaker of the House was soundly put to bed.

That he was defeated by a Tea Party-backed candidate challenging him from the right is troubling, though not surprising, given the large number of homemade yellow plywood signs dotting the landscape on that side of town, many proclaiming Cantor’s “liberalism” (which goes to show exactly how far to the right the Overton Window has shifted around here). The 7th, largely thanks to gerrymandering, is pretty safely conservative, though this historic election result (Cantor is, as far as I can tell, the first Majority Leader ever defeated in a primary election while holding the position) just might put the seat in a position for a Democratic pick-up, depending on how things play out from here.

Dave Brat, the newly-crowned Republican nominee, is pretty darned conservative, and appears to be much more of a true believer than Cantor ever was (Cantor’s allegiance is mostly to whatever increases Cantor’s profile – he’s always been much more focused on his national standing and chances at Speaker than to his district), which plays to Tea Party sensibilities, and will play well with the kinds of conservatives who tend to vote in primaries. However, overall turnout was light, which doesn’t give much insight into how the rank-and-file, non-Gasden Flag flying moderate Republicans will go in the general; Brat may indeed be too theocratically minded (he’s got some troubling associations in that direction) for the garden variety establishment Republican you find in the well-to-do suburbs of the 7th.

How Brat actually does in November depends both on a couple of things: how he comports himself with his base, whether Cantor decides to go on as a write-in (unlikely, in my opinion), and the quality of the campaign run by Democratic challenger Jack Trammell (in particular, how much support the state and national parties throw behind him). Brat’s victory at all probably has at least a little bit to do with Trammell’s supporters: Virginia is an open primary state, meaning that anybody can vote in any primary. More than a few of my liberal friends held their nose to vote for Brat in the primary in hopes of unseating Cantor and throwing the race in the 7th into disarray, perhaps at the suggestion by former congressman (and “Dukes of Hazard” actor) Ben “Cooter” Jones, who has publically suggested exactly that sort of Cooter d’Etat (I wish I came up with that term). Despite this sort of electoral ratf**kery, though, I’m relatively sure that this result has more to do with general Cantor Fatigue and low turnout from the rank-and-file.

We’ll see how things shake out in November. This result is probably a good one overall; even if Brat, whose positions are much more troubling than Cantor, wins the election, he’ll be advocating his troubling positions from much less advantageous position; without seniority or a leadership position, he won’t have any of the influence that Cantor had over national policy. If Trammell wins, it’s another vote in the Democratic column the party toward a majority, and one the party didn’t necessarily anticipate, which is good news all around, at least from where I’m sitting.

Where I am sitting, here in the Virginia 4th district (right on the edge of the border with the 7th), things are less encouraging, though that’s pretty much the standard. For the first time in three or four cycles, the Democratic party isn’t fieldind a challenger to Randy Forbes, although the last two challengers broke 40 percent, which isn’t as far off as one would expect, given that the 4th is probably more conservative than the 7th, being a weirdly-shaped conglomeration of rural enclaves and military bases. Rep. Forbes, of course, is much less influential than Cantor ever was (Forbes seemed to vote however Cantor told him to, and spends most of the rest of the time on the House Prayer Caucus and calling for the Navy to build more ships it hasn’t asked for), and thus, pretty harmless, if frustrating to those of us in his district of a more progressive bent.

The November ballot for the 4th has Forbes facing a Libertarian challenger, Bo Brown, an accountant lacking a campaign web page who has “interesting” ideas on tax policy, few other positions to speak of (though he does advocate for marriage equity from a “government has no business there” perspective), and a really troublesome hairstyle that won’t do him any favors. I’ve no idea who I’ll be voting for. I’ve cast write-in votes for my wife in the past; so far, that’s the position that’s winning out.

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