The big political campaign news of the week was Eric Cantor’s lost in the Virginia Republican Primary to an unknown college economic professor, David Brat. It is the only time in America’s history that the sitting House Majority Leader lost in a primary. As soon as the upset was announced the political pundits began to theorized on what caused the Cantor’s sudden political demised. They funneled the factors into the following four somewhat overlapping components:
- Cantor was out of touch with his district
- David vs Goliath (Grassroots support vs Ties to Corporate Money)
- Voter Turnout
What can we learn about the Reed-Robertson race by analyzing the Cantor-Brat primary?
Issues—Brat used Immigration Reform as a target on Eric Cantor’s back. Cantor seems to be playing both sides if the immigration issue. He supported the Kids Act, the Enlist Act, and the Dream Act—all ways to help some immigrants become citizens quicker than our present laws allow. When Cantor realized that these were not playing out well in his conservative Virginia district, he began to retract his support with written campaign updates. This was seen as playing politics and deceiving his constituents.
In the NY 23rd, constituents from both parties and independents oppose Rep. Reed’s ultra conservative stances on the following issues:
- Women’s Rights Issues (including equal pay for equal work, Violence Against Women Act)
- Conservation Issues (his 7% rating by the League of Conservation Voters tells it all)
- Corporate Personhood (you don’t bite the hand that feeds you)
- Safety Net Issues (reducing the length of Unemployment Insurance eligibility periods, voting to drastically reducing SNAP and WIC funding for example)
- Medicare (Reed’s desire of raising the eligibility age and making Medicare a voucher program)
- College Loan programs (Reed voted to continue protecting millionaires and billionaires rather than ease the burden for young people all over this country who are trying to get a quality education.)
- Background Checks for Gun Owners (which side is he on?)
- Shutting down the government (which costed us $20 billion)
- Voting three times in two years to default on our nation’s bills (which endangers our credit rating)
Out of Touch—Cantor seemed out of touch with his constituents—the voters. The positions on his political ads about Immigration were not in synch with his voting record. That scared the average voter. Cantor was seen as “not one of them”—According to The Bull Elephant Blog reported “He earned a reputation as someone who cared more about Fortune 500 companies than he did voters in his own district and he proved it by spending all his time with them and no time with the people in his district.”
Reed is not seen as an outsider. He has a presence in the district. His Town Hall meetings, Round Tables and visiting events gives his name a high recognition. On the other hand we may know too much about him, including his late tax paying habits, lackadaisical record keeping and his disregard of the congressional requirements dealing with businesses he owns. The people of Corning, who experienced him as Mayor for one 2 year-term, has voted against him in both of his congressional races.
There are questions if Rep. Reed really represents the district. The New NY 23rd looked at his votes and his corporate connections especially with the Koch Brothers, Halliburton, and Cheaspeake Energy and are not impressed with what we saw. Many wonder if Rep. Reed is representing his constituents, or his financial supporters. As of June 4, Reed received only 3% of his campaign funds from small donations ($200 or less); Robertson has received 21% of her funding from that group. Only 25% of Reed’s total donations has come from within our district. Compare that to Robertson’s instate donation rate of 69%. Those figures speak volumes.
David vs Goliath Many viewed the victory of David Brat as a David vs Goliath story. Cantor spent $5.7 million on the race as compared to Brat’s $230,000. Brat’s victory was a successful grassroots story. The Bull Elephant reported , “Literally hundreds of individuals volunteered over the last five months to door knock and phone bank for Dave Brat.” How many went door to door for Cantor? Remember Margret Mead’s observation, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision the money has been flooding into national campaigns. The general feeling the candidate with the most money wins. We all know that is not AWAYS the case. President’s Obama’s victory in 2012 is an example of a well planned campaign and grassroots support overcame the Romney and his bundle of billionaire supporters. . You don’t need to have the more money than your opponent, but you need to have enough money to get your name and issues out to the masses.
In the NY23rd it is no secret that as the incumbent, Rep. Reed uses his connections and his voting record as collateral for his industrial constituents to finance his campaign. As of June 4, he has raised $2.2 million, 55% of his campaign treasure chest came from Corporate PACs. His biggest campaign financiers are the Insurance, Oil and Gas, Health Professionals and Real Estate Industries. His votes support their interests, their wallets supports him. He tries to convince the voters that if the Industries succeed, we all succeed. We’ll see how many voters will agree with that line of thinking in November.
Challenger Martha Robertson has raised $1.2 million, impressive for a rookie congressional candidate. Rep. Reed out raised his last opponent, Nate Shinagawa 3 to 1, but narrowly pulled out a victory. Robertson’s campaign has wisely spent only 28% of what she has raised and can turn that into an media presences in October. Reed has already spent 51% of his campaign funds.
Getting the voters to vote—There are different thoughts on the voter turnout in the Cantor-Brat race. MSNBC has reported that it was a small voter turnout, where The Washington Post said it was a high voter turnout. Huh? Believe it or not both statements could be true, depending on your definition of voter turnout. The Washington Post was comparing the voter turnout in Virginia Primary races since 2006, and this year’s 65,000 turnout was the highest amount in their study. MSNBC was looking at the amount who voted as compared as the amount who could vote, and their estimates 13% seems pretty low. We need to realize that Virginia has an Open Primary system. Any registered voter (not just Republicans) can come to the polls and ask for a republican primary ballot. And the democrats did come out and voted.
If Robertson is to win in November, she has to get her volunteers to become an army-like and get their boots on the ground. They need to inform the voters of her experiences as a County Legislature Chair and her vision to improve the district, not from top down, but from people up. Details of her priorities of Investing in the Middle Class, Jobs and Economic Development, Clean Energy, and Education, Fairness and Opportunity, and Our Seniors can be found on her website.
The NY 23rd and the Virginia 7th Congressional Districts are very different, but somethings are universal–people want their representative to have well defined goals that they believe in. They want to trust their representative. When that is the case, a well organized grassroots campaign is difficult to defeat.