Cantor’s loss catches Washington off guard

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
No one had any reason to suspect Cantor was in danger from a primary challenge on his right.

WASHINGTON — During the post-game analysis of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s shocking primary loss on Tuesday night, I tweeted that we need a political version of the Elias Sports Bureau, a go-to depository of political news and statistics we could use to put election results in an historic context.

Of course, we already have the next best thing: the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog.

The blog’s proprietor, analyst Eric Ostermeier, put up a post last night detailing just how surprising Cantor’s loss to challenger David Brat really is: it was the first time a sitting majority leader has failed to win renomination for his seat since the position of House Majority Leader was created in 1899. That’s 115 years and 55 election cycles.

In fact, Ostermeier notes, “Prior to Cantor, more house majority leaders had died in office (one — Democrat Hale Boggs of Louisiana in 1972) than lost a renomination bid (zero) since the Office of the Majority Leader was officially created in 1899.”

It’s not surprising, then, that Cantor’s loss really caught everyone off guard. No one had any reason to suspect Cantor was in danger from a primary challenge on his right. This cycle, politics watchers had been much more interested in primary threats to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, defeated Texas Rep. Ralph Hall and Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who faces a June 24 run-off election against a tea party-backed opponent. But Cantor, a well-funded, conservative member of House leadership and the man widely expected to succeed John Boehner as the next Republican House Speaker, wasn’t supposed to be a target, let alone a double-digit loser on primary night.

That made an already historic defeat a very surprising one as well, and Cantor’s loss has already joined the ranks of the all-time biggest political upsets.

Here’s some good reading on the Cantor loss today:

Devin Henry can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry

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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 06/11/2014 - 10:22 am.

    And his opponent said repeatedly that he, not Cantor, represented “Real Americans” — a GOP dog whistle that sneakily brought attention to the fact that Cantor is a … (gasp) … Jew.

    Pandering to the bigoted base … it’s the Tea Party way!

    • Submitted by Jim Halonen on 06/11/2014 - 11:48 am.

      Or maybe what he means by “real Americans” is “Mom and Pop Americans” and not special interests.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/11/2014 - 12:46 pm.

      Your stereotypes

      like most stereotypes based on ignorance, doesn’t fit. Israel’s greatest friend has always been the American conservative. The Neocons were originally all Jewish, and it’s been said that if George W. Bush could run for Israel’s Prime Minister he’d win in a landslide.

      That said, Cantor won seven straight campaigns with conservative support. He only lost when he abandoned the conservative principle of no amnesty for illegal aliens.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 06/11/2014 - 01:28 pm.


        Tester complaining of perpetuating stereotypes. My hypocrisy meter just red-lined.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/11/2014 - 01:48 pm.

        “He only lost when he abandoned the conservative principle”

        Sorry, but he lost because of a 10% turnout which his opponent managed to stack with the more committed voters – and he brought them out by mischaracterizing Cantor’s views on immigration.

        So, the lessons could include:

        1. In low turnout elections, anyone can win, especially “true believers”, who are brought out by the beating of their drums. In this particular campaign, I didn’t hear of any attempts at voter suppression, but in future elections, voter suppression will work in basically the same way through lower turnout, and will open the door for those who don’t have a chance in a full turnout. (Voter ID, anyone?)

        2. Mischaracterizing your opponent is a fundamentally workable election strategy when the voters are ill-informed and easily misled. Low quality information can actually weigh more than accurate information because, for one thing, it’s more exciting; and secondly, it ties up your opponent’s time pointing out the falsehood of the accusations.

        3. Bearing in mind this was a REPUBLICAN primary, if the party leans further to the right to cater to the Tea Party, it necessarily must lean away from the center, which could have a big influence in the next election cycle.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 06/11/2014 - 01:50 pm.

        Who said if George W. Bush

        Could run for Prime Minister of Israel, he would win in a landslide?

        • Submitted by jason myron on 06/12/2014 - 06:38 am.

          It’s from the same source

          that told him that Romney would win in a landslide, the repubs would win back the senate and the state legislature in 2012, the voter ID and marriage amendments were a lock and the ACA would be thrown out by the SCOTUS.

      • Submitted by David Wintheiser on 06/11/2014 - 02:29 pm.

        Immigration is convenient

        By focusing on immigration as the key issue that led to Cantor’s primary defeat, pro-business conservatives can ignore that Brat ran simultaneously on a platform of holding economic elites accountable – see

        Of course, the Brat campaign probably prefers the immigration narrative, seeing how they’ve changed the settings on their economic populism YouTube videos to ‘private’ –

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/11/2014 - 11:20 am.


    Good reminder that being a big shot in Washington isn’t quite the same thing as being a big shot.

  3. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 06/11/2014 - 12:02 pm.

    A Little Out of Touch

    Aren’t they?

    In 2010 when Christine O’Donnell defeated a long-time sitting U.S. Representative in a primary to run for a U.S. Senate seat the pundit class was shocked, SHOCKED I SAY!, that someone as genial and respected as Rep. Castle would suffer defeat at the hands of a nobody like her. Amusing it is to see how little has changed in their perceptions.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/11/2014 - 12:02 pm.

    Being that he was seen as too accommodating to the left’s notion of immigration “reform”, the wave of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants pouring into Arizona and Texas to take advantage of Obama’s amnesty didn’t help, probably.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/11/2014 - 02:03 pm.

    Due to redistricting in 2010, Cantor ended up in a more conservative district.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/12/2014 - 07:32 am.

    This is good news for the country

    Nearly all of these tea party folks are extremist with little if any appeal beyond the reactionary demographic that’s captured the Republican party. Most of them will go on to lose the general elections because they pretty much all the votes they’re gonna get in the primaries. Even if this guy manages to win in VA other candidates will lose elsewhere. I think the GOP owns the stalemate we’ve seen in congress and I think “real” Americans are sick of it. We stuck in stuck in never ending votes to repeal Obamacare, investigate Benghazi, and now howling about five prisoners as if they’re gonna come back and destroy the nation. Meanwhile major issues that could be easily addressed are stalled.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/16/2014 - 09:11 am.


    It’s THAT hard to catch Washington off guard.

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