By Ken Feltman
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), widely assumed to be the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was beaten in a primary yesterday. The media are claiming Cantor’s loss is a shocking, totally unexpected event. Not so fast: Cantor got caught in excessive hubris and a Congressional district that reflects a split in the Republican Party that will not be easy to resolve.
Tea Party folks are claiming credit. But the various Tea Party groups were hardly involved in the primary. The immigration issue served as a rallying point for disenchanted voters hurt by the economy and having trouble finding good jobs. These voters struck out at Cantor, who was more attuned to the better off suburban Richmond voters.
Cantor ignored warnings
Some groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, picked up the signals that Cantor was in trouble. Cantor dismissed their intelligence and their offers of help. Yesterday, as his constituents voted, Cantor met with lobbyists at a Starbucks on Capitol Hill in Washington to plan fundraising activities.
Do not read national significance into this primary upset. Cantor has never been comfortable with rural “red-neck” Republicans. During reapportionment, his consultants managed to add non-suburban Republican areas to his district, seemingly strengthening his hold. These new areas were an uncomfortable fit for Cantor and they turned out yesterday to vote for a simpler message than the nuanced Cantor conveyed.
Cantor’s pollster misread the likely GOP electorate. Cantor misread the growing split between frustrated conservatives who feel threatened and disadvantaged, unable to control their economic destiny, and those Republicans who have financial stability and want to build on that base.
Richmond suburbs are moving north?
Another way to look at it: The Richmond suburbs are growing and, in essence, moving north, politically, toward the Washington suburbs of Northern Virginia. As the Richmond suburbs “move north,” they pass the more rural areas that remain, politically, in the old Virginia.
This split will intensify and the Republican Party will have a difficult time reconciling these two Virginias. During last weekend’s Republican convention in Roanoke, the antagonism toward Northern Virginia was evident in “Yankee, go home” comments directed at some Northern Virginia delegates.
The suburban areas near Washington may wish they could split from the rest of Virginia because they pay taxes to shore up the economies and infrastructure of many struggling areas of the Old Dominion. Although West Virginia split off from Virginia in the Civil War, with help from the Union government in Washington, separation will not happen today. But the separation of attitudes will continue to define the two Virginias. One is resisting, even regressing, as times remain tough, The other is more moderate, accepting and accommodating. It is also an economic engine that all parts of the Commonwealth of Virginia need.
This is the Virginia equivalent of New York City versus Upstate New York or Chicago versus Downstate Illinois – an uneasy tension that occasionally breaks out in political chaos.