The Race in the 7th District: Eric Cantor Can be Beaten

The Race in the 7th District: Eric Cantor Can be Beaten

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November 6 has come and gone, and Democrats, Liberals and Progressives the Commonwealth over have breathed several hearty sighs of relief. Despite a contentious and worrisome election season, Virginian’s can now look forward to a second term for President Obama and six years with Senator Kaine.

But a problem remains.

A problem that espouses extreme rhetoric yet doesn’t have the guts to identify as such. A problem that blocks, stalls, impedes and stonewalls. A problem that stands before the steady trudge of history screaming for it to stop. A problem that continues to weigh down the Old Dominion like a self-important albatross. A problem named Eric Cantor.

The shortcomings of the current House GOP leader are far too extensive to list here. But even as a casual reader of the news and this blog can attest, Eric Cantor makes headlines more for his anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-compromise cry-baby antics than for any significant legislative accomplishment. Lucky for us, while Mr. Cantor is a significant impediment to progress, he’s also exceedingly beatable.

Case in point: This last election cycle, Eric Cantor was challenged by Democrat Wayne Powell, a community lawyer from Chesterfield and a first-time candidate. Mr. Powell ran a spirited, passionate campaign that took Cantor to task and held his feet to the fire. As the deputy director of communications in the final months of the campaign, I saw first hand the groundswell of anti-Cantor sentiment that seethed just below the surface of the 7th district. And although we lost, I am proud of the candidate I supported, the work we did and the ground we covered. This race also proved that Eric Cantor is far from the the unconquerable behemoth that has the DCCC shaking in its boots.

Firstly, there’s the much-discussed Hickman Analytics poll released in June that revealed Eric Cantor’s popularity had taken a substantial hit due to, among other things, his antiquated stance on women’s health issues and his refusal to work with the president. The poll also showed that 43 percent of 7th District residence would vote to replace Cantor, as opposed to only 41 percent who maintained their support.

What’s more, this race marked the first time in ten years that Eric Cantor had agreed to debate an opponent. Coupled with a surprising onslaught of expensive ad buys and direct mail attacks, and its clear Mr. Cantor is terrified that his grip on the district is slipping.

And then there are the actual election results.  

The news organizations called the race rather early for Cantor. After all, it would seem a foregone conclusion that a well-funded and well-connected candidate like the GOP Leader would carry the day in such a conservative district. Indeed, Powell garnered 42 percent of the vote to Cantor’s 58 percent. Yet this seemingly straightforward electoral sweep belies a rather heartening truth for Virginia Democrats. Say what you will about the nature of 7th district politics, but the numbers don’t lie. And the numbers point to a slow but steady trend in favor of Democratic candidates.

To wit: In 2002, Eric Cantor’s first challenger garnered a mere 30 percent of the vote. By 2008, challenger Anita Hartke had bridged that gap and came away with 37 percent. And this year, Wayne Powell earned the support of 42 percent of the electorate, the highest of any challenger to date. All told, this reveals an embarrassing loss of 12 percentage points for Cantor over ten years. Not exactly a recipe for long-term electoral success.

So what is the ultimate take away? What can we learn from yet another stinging defeat at the hands of Virginia’s biggest problem?

That he is beatable. Not easily, and not quickly. Make no mistake: Cantor is a formidable foe, with a campaign war chest that would make even the most seasoned Big Oil CEO dab at his brow with his silk pocket square. And while the electoral trend within the district is indeed a positive one, it has been subject to its own disappointing fits and starts.

Our path isn’t an easy one, but it is a clear one. By coupling a tough, progressive candidate with an electorate growing in anti-Cantor sentiment, it is conceivable to foresee a 7th District gone blue. But it’s not enough to know what to do. We have to exercise our power a citizens to get it done. Pressuring local and state-wide Democrats to embrace, nominate and fund an unabashed Democratic candidate for the seat is only the first step in a long and winding road fraught with political peril.

The phrase “fortune favors the bold” is attributed to ancient Roman playwright Terence. Despite the intervening years, 7th District Democrats would do well to adopt it as their own.  

  • FreeDem

    Democratic candidates have been doing better in the 7th because of fundamental trends in the Richmond suburbs, not because of anything specific to Cantor. Yes, Cantor’s driving the GOP’s popularity down but it’s not specifically anti-Cantor as much as anti-Cantor’s GOP.

  • ir003436

    I’ve never been involved in a campaign other than phone-banking and door-to-door canvassing for Obama in 2008 and this year.  However, it seems to me if we Democrats want to beat Cantor and anyone else, we must start now and not wait until a few months before the election.

    Here in VA-01 we had an excellent candidate in Adam Cook — young, studied the issues, good speaker, meets people well.  I don’t have the numbers at hand but I believe he pulled over 40 percent against Rob Wittman.  However, Adam is finished — he can’t afford to campaign for the next two years, so, it seems as though here in VA-01, we’ll have to start all over in 18 months or so with a new face.

    Seems to me that folks like Powell and Cook should be all over their districts for the next two years:

    — giving media interviews on current issues

    — dogging the incumbents’ heels every step of the way; that is, issuing press releases, writing letters to editors, holding the incumbents accountable for every breath they take

    — go all over the district — speak at the VFW and Legion halls; visit the firehouses and the cafes where people stop for breakfast; attend every fish fry and oyster roast and chicken dinner

    — in other words, make yourself known in every corner of VA-07 or VA-01.

    I’m certain, however, that none of our candidates can afford to do this, which means we’ll face the same problem in 2014:  Crank up a campaign a few months out against a well-known incumbent.

  • Teddy Goodson

    who may have some ideas about party-building and cultivating talent, so that otherwise good candidates can be helped to raise their profile (and coincidentally that of the Party) during the 2 years between elections in certain districts. What could the Party do along these lines in each District? Draw up a business plan, an A-List and a B-List, and present it to the new DPVA Chair, is my suggestion.

  • http://www.bluevirginia.us lowkell