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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Defeated in Primary

To the astonishment of everyone in Washington, House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, was defeated by an unknown economics professor at Randolph-Macon college, David Brat, in the Republican primary in Virginia's 7th congressional district. Cantor was in line to become speaker of the House when the current speaker, John Boehner, finally decides he can't stand the job any more. With Cantor soon gone, there will be a free for all for the #2 slot in the Republican caucus. The #3 House Republican, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is not popular with the tea party. The #4 House Republican is Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA), who is even less popular with right-wing House members, so it will be quite a battle when the new House convenes.

The punditry has gone berserk over this and is proclaiming that no Republican will now support any form of immigration reform because Cantor was in favor of a mild bit of it and Brat's whole campaign was about "NO AMNESTY EVER." Of course the Republican establishment realizes that if immigration reform is off the table as long as the Republicans hold power, a lot of Latino voters are going to conclude the only way to solve the problem is to make sure Republicans don't have any power any more.

The big disconnect here is that most House Republicans are in extremely gerrymandered districts due to the Republican sweep of the state legislatures in 2010, a midterm election. So they are not afraid to offend Latino voters because there aren't many of them in their districts. But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. A strategy that works well in individual House districts around the country does not work in presidential elections or increasingly many Senate elections. Also, looking down the road, 2020 is a presidential election year, so the Democrats may sweep the state legislatures then and do the gerrymandering for the following decade.

To put Cantor's loss in perspective, in 2012, Cantor got 220,000 votes in the general election and the Democrat got 160,000 votes. Yesterday Cantor lost by about 7000 votes, 36,110 to 28,898. If 7000 people in a district with 380,000 voters had switched their vote, this "crisis" would not have occurred and the punditry would not be freaking out today. Although Cantor outspent his opponent by more than 25 to 1, he rarely appeared in the Richmond area district and hardly campaigned at all there. It could well be arrogance rather than ideology that did him in.

One consequence of Cantor's defeat could come in fundraising. Cantor was the only Jewish Republican in Congress and a very powerful one at that. When the party wanted to make a fundraising pitch to rich Jews in New York or Los Angeles, guess who went? There is no plan B. In contrast, there are 11 Democratic senators who are Jewish and 21 Democrats in the House who are Jewish. Jewish Republicans are already saying oy veh.

A news story making the rounds of late is "The establishment strikes back," based on establishment victories in the Kentucky Senate primary and a few other places. That story became shaky last week when tea party candidate Chris McDaniel edged out six-term Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in a primary last week, forcing a runoff on June 24. With Cantor's defeat, albeit by 7000 votes in an open primary where only 17% of the usual voters showed up, the new normal is a paraphrase of Mark Twain's remark that "rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." The tea party is back in action and there are plenty of primaries left this year. As mainstream Republicans panic and move further to the right to protect themselves, they are only going to make it harder to win general elections in districts and states that are closely balanced between the parties.

For President Obama, Cantor's demise is largely a plus. Obama regarded Cantor as a pain in the tush, an unprincipled politician who would take whatever side of an issue that would benefit himself the most. Now he is rid of Cantor. Also, to the extent that immigration reform is dead as a legislative issue, it remains very much alive as a campaign issue, which benefits the Democrats. In fact, for them, the best of all possible worlds is for Democrats to keep pushing for immigration reform in Congress and having the Republicans keep killing it, and getting the blame within the Latino community.

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