WASHINGTON, June 1, 2014 — As June breaks over Virginia, there are two political races that will come to a conclusion in the first ten days of the month.
The two races have far different consequences and are being run in two different manners. Their outcome could show what the future of the Republican Party will be.
The two races are the Virginia Senate primary, and the primary in the 7th Congressional District.
Both races are something of the same story: A Tea Party insurgent is challenging a powerful Republican insider. In the 7th Congressional District, the insider is Republican incumbent Eric Cantor. In the Senate primary, the insider is former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.
The winner of the Senate primary will face an incumbent Democrat, Senator Mark Warner. With the waning fortunes of Democrats this year, Virginia is now considered a possible pick-up for the Republicans. Fighting Gillespie for the nomination is former Air Force pilot Shak Hill.
Virginia’s GOP Senate nomination will be decided by a nominating convention on July 7th in Roanoke. The conventional wisdom is that Gillespie will win easily. Gillespie learned from last year, where out of the blue, hard charging Tea Party activist E.W. Jackson came from no where to win the nomination for Lieutenant Governor.
Gillespie has run a well-managed campaign. Perhaps he simply feels unthreatened by Hill’s campaign, but Gillespie has not gone negative against Hill. He has focused instead on outreach to the delegates who will attend the convention through a series of emails and calls that emphasize his conservative qualifications.
Many conservatives are skeptical of Gillespie. He is very much a Washington insider. Many fear he will be another vote for amnesty and will be more like liberal Lamar Alexander or John McCain than Ted Cruz.
But Gillespie has not run a scorched earth campaign, and while conservatives may not be thrilled about him if he wins, he is in a position to reach out to them.
Eric Cantor is a far different story.
Cantor has run a vicious and extraordinarily dishonest campaign against Dave Brat. Brat is a conservative economics professor who is taking on Cantor. Cantor was stunned on May 10 when his hand picked choice to be reelected as the Republican Chairman of the 7th Congressional District was defeated at a convention that was rigged in his favor.
Since then, Cantor has been carpet bombing the airwaves with negative ads about Dave Brat. Most of them are blatant lies about Brat. Even liberal “fact checking” organizations are denouncing the ads.
Brat is running his campaign on a shoe-string budget. Cantor is clearly worried. Not only is his campaign spending a lot of money, he is calling in help from his friends. The American Chemical Society is spending $300,000 in independent expenditure ads to help Cantor.
Brat at last report only had about $42,000 in the bank, so he is not able to even respond to the TV ads. Brat does have the support of Tea Party groups that were instrumental in the stunning upset at the 7th District Convention in May.
Cantor’s scorched earth tactics have angered conservatives in the district. Cantor doesn’t care. If he wins the primary on June 10, he will probably win reelection; his only opponent in the general election in November is an unknown Libertarian opponent. No Democrat qualified to run against him.
The primary will have a very low turnout, so the winner will be the one who can get out the vote.
If Ed Gillespie wins, by November, he will have the conservative vote. Conservatives may not be thrilled with him, but they won’t hate him.
Cantor may win as well. He is spending money on his campaign faster than he spends it in Washington. But his tactics have totally fractured the Republican Party in his district and conservatives are ready to bail on him and the GOP.
If Cantor wins, he wins at the cost of a fractured party and the base that is ready to leave the Party.
If Dave Brat does the improbable and wins, it will be a powerful reminder to the Party Establishment that the people are the owners of the Party.
If Brat does defeat the sitting House Majority Leader, it will send the message loud and clear: The Tea Party is still very much alive.