WASHINGTON, May 10, 2014 – Saturday morning dawned for what should have been a great day for Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor. With the Democrats holding all five of Virginia’s state wide offices, Cantor is arguably the top Republican. He is the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives and has fought his Republican opponents with the tenacity of TV’s fictional congressman Frank Underwood.
Cantor’s home base is Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. That district covers some of the suburbs of Richmond before heading north and almost touching the suburbs of Washington.
Every two years, each Republican District holds a District Convention. The most important business and sometimes the only business of the District Convention is to select the District Chairman. That is an important position as the District Chairman has a significant influence over the politics of the district.
Eric Cantor emerged into the halls of the Richmond Hilton, located in Henrico County. He walked with the swagger of a conquering general.
And why shouldn’t he. This was his powerbase.
Cantor’s campaign had bought out all of the rooms in the hotel so his challenger, conservative college professor Dave Brat had to plan his rally across the street from the hotel at a Honey Baked Ham store. Cantor’s team bused in delegates on tour buses who lived some distance from Richmond.
The convention was severely divided. Lynwood Cobb, the incumbent who was supported by Cantor, was challenged by Fred Gruber, a Tea Party favorite.
The first course of business was to elect a temporary chairman for the convention. Eric Cantor’s team supported Virginia Delegate Manoli Loupassi. Gruber’s team nominated one candidate, Russ Moulton, who was ruled to be ineligible for the office. The team scrambled to find a second candidate who lost the vote.
As Loupassi took the podium, it looked like Cantor and his forces would carry the day.
As the vote for Chairman happened, Cantor’s challenger was given the opportunity to speak to the convention. His supporters cheered him loudly, to the surprise of the Cantor people. Brat challenged Cantor on his dishonest ads and his refusal to debate.
Then Cantor was given the opportunity to speak.
Any illusions that the convention was going his way were quickly dissolved as Cantor was loudly booed by Tea Party activists and others supporting Dave Brat and Fred Gruber. Chants of “Liar” and “Debate” were heard through the large convention room.
Cantor was visibly flustered and very visibly angered at the reception he received. Immediately after his speech, he left.
The ultimate shock came when the votes were counted. The Republican Party of Virginia uses a weighted voting system that favors counties that have larger Republican turn out.
When the votes were counted, Fred Gruber had defeated Cantor’s hand picked Chairman Lynwood Cobb, 675.8 to 630. (The .8 is because of the weighting formula).
After the convention, some Cantor supporters left gracefully, congratulating Gruber supporters for the win. Others stormed away. More than one was heard to threaten to pull their money from the GOP because Cantor’s hand picked Chairman lost.
Many in the grassroots have neither forgotten about nor forgiven the establishment for not supporting the conservative Republican ticket for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general last year. All three lost.
For Cantor, this can be nothing short of a red alert moment. The base of his power in Virginia has been cracked. Cantor’s team could not turn out enough voters for his people to keep control of the 7th District.
On June 10th, Virginia will hold its congressional primaries. It is the live or die moment for Eric Cantor. There is no Democrat on the ballot so the winner of the primary wins all.
Dave Brat now has huge momentum going into the primary with a base that is fired up.
On June 10th, the Congressional races will be the top races on the ballot. That means there will be a low turn out and get out the vote efforts will be crucial.
But there is another wild card to consider.
Eric Cantor is the Republican Majority Leader in the House of Representatives. Many Democrats may entertain the idea of crossing over and voting in the Republican Primary just to defeat Cantor.
A conservative insurgency in Eric Cantor’s district defeated his chairman on Saturday. The question now is, will Cantor suffer the same fate in June.