Cantor's real lesson: stay close to home

Eric Cantor's surprise loss to Dave Brat in the VA 7th primary held a number of lessons for politicos and observers. But one of the key ones for his fellow members of the GOP was supposedly this: stay the hell away from immigration reform, and for god's sake don't mention the A-word. Politico, among many others, noted immediately after Brat's victory that immigration reform was dead. And lo and behold, recent bills to deal with the border crisis have now stalled in both Houses, with one Senator specifically warning his colleagues to thwart the President's will on this or face Cantor's fate.

The claims about immigration were probably overstated, as some even noted at the time. (Including my R-MC colleague Lauren Bell, who has the tweets to prove it.) Still, even if you grant that immigration reform had some potency in Cantor's loss, this was a national problem that his fellow federal officials might take to heart.

Local politicians heard another lesson loud and clear: pay attention to your district. Politico's excellent primary post-mortem noted how Cantor was focused on Washington to the detriment of his actual constituents:

Meanwhile, Cantor’s ambitions increasingly kept him in Washington and away from the district, associates said. The 51-year-old Republican was heir apparent to Boehner — and had a travel schedule and entourage to match — but those trappings of power backfired.

Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins, a Cantor constituent who has known him for years, said Cantor “just wasn’t in the district as much as he used to be. Dave Brat was there.”

The word is that VA state representatives also saw this as a key factor in Cantor's loss, and they do not want to suffer the same fate.

VA residents shouldn't be surprised if they find an increase in the number of mailings they get from their delegates, for example, or see their State Senator popping up more often at local events. A number of Delegate offices that would normally be quiet this summer have instead been buzzing with activity, as staffers and interns fire off fundraising letters, thank-you's, and acknowledgements or helping their boss get to town picnics or parades.

Thanks to America's district-based voting, the old saw about all politics being local is as true as ever. Cantor's loss apparently has been a forceful reminder for VA state reps.

James Carr is not Mike Dickinson (says James Carr)

Tom Nash has a piece in this week's Style Weekly about Mike Dickinson, the oddball VCU-grad and strip club owner who is "running" for Congress. Dickinson is not much more than a social media presence, gaining some notoriety for sparring with Fox News hosts in the spring and, more recently, putting a bounty out for nude pics of teen hunter Kendal Jones.

Dickinson seems to be enjoying himself, so good for him. But he's causing problems for other candidates in the race: certainly James Carr, and possibly even Jack Trammell.

Nash's article rightly suggests that Dave Brat's stunning primary win has opened the door to opportunists like Dickinson and Tareq Salihi. (And I say "rightly" because I agree, and not just because he quotes my department chair on the subject.) They may not believe they can win, but they're correct to think that they can at least gain some attention (as the Style Weekly article on Dickinson already proves).

But libertarian James Carr is not a write-in candidate; he's actually on the ballot. Articles like Nash's, that suggest that the VA-7 race is now "a magnet for alternative choices," have the effect of lumping Carr in with Dickinson and Salihi, even while Carr denies the connection. As Nash writes:

The Libertarian, Carr, doesn't consider [Dickinson] a serious candidate, and doesn't want to see him treated as one. "Absolutely not," Carr says. "Anyone who qualifies for the ballot, I'd say that's appropriate. I put in six months of door-to-door work."

No kidding. Carr wants to be seen as one of three guys on the ballot, not one of a bunch of fringe challengers to the two major party candidates.

I used to live in New York State, where electoral fusion rules allow third parties to flourish (at least relative to other states). I especially remember the 2002 election, where incumbent Governor George Pataki was facing Democrat Carl McCall. The debates before the election featured not just the two major party candidates, but also FIVE third-party candidates! This was great for democratic politics, and actually exciting to watch. At the same time, it was a strategic victory for Pataki. Rather than a debate between the two major challengers, the optics of the debate depicted the Governor and a bunch of challengers. By appearing with the non-serious, third party candidates, Democrat McCall looked like just one more wanna-be.

And that's the problem that write-in candidates like Dickinson pose for Libertarian Carr in Virginia. Carr wants to be taken seriously, but he gets lumped in with reality stars and Twitter campaigns. This could even be a problem for Trammell, although his significant fundraising totals and his stiff-but-serviceable appearance on MSNBC this week suggest he will be taken more seriously.

The bottom line: fans of more inclusive politics should be happy, but that inclusion comes at a cost for the most serious challenger.

Salahi ineligible for VA7 ballot: "I'm surprised," says no one ever

Last week the blogosphere (OK: just this blog) was up in arms about a latecomer to the VA7 Congressional race: Tareq Salahi, supposedly with the Independent Greens. One problem: apparently he didn't collect enough petition signatures to get on the ballot.

That doesn't mean he will go away entirely, though. Style Weekly's Tom Nash, who broke the original Salahi story, reported that Salahi is going to continue, presumably as a write-in candidate. As of this morning, the Independent Green Party of Virginia still had a link to a brief page for Salahi's campaign. (Although that should be taken with a grain of salt. I hate to bust on a struggling third party when our 2-party system does so much to crush them, but come on - the IGPV's website uses Comic Sans as a headline font.)

Still, the lack of ballot access reduces Salahi to a fringe-of-the-fringe candidate, meaning he should be less likely to find the center ring.

Oh no not Salahi again

I thought maybe it was a joke: Style Weekly reported that none other than Tareq Salahi was jumping into the VA 7 race against Brat and Trammell. Salahi, you may remember, is the businessman and wanna-be politician most famous for crashing a White House dinner with his then-wife, reality star Michaele Salahi.

But no joke: Salahi has apparently gathered enough signatures and even gave himself some money from his failed gubernatorial campaign.

Just in case you're wondering: no, it doesn't appear that Salahi lives in the Virginia 7th. The Constitution requires residency in the STATE, but not necessarily the district. (The idea was low barriers to entry for the house closest to the people; one of the few times our founding fathers were friendly to anyone but elites.) Still, being called out for carpetbagging seems to be the least of Salahi's problems.

Salahi is, of course, not a serious threat to challenge Dave Brat or even Jack Trammell in the district. But his presence does threaten to turn the race from what some had hoped would be a high-minded exchange of ideas (ahem) into a circus. And it may make it harder for media to continue ignoring the weirdo pseudo-candidate Mike Dickinson.

For those looking for a serious alternative to the inter-collegiate #Brammell contest, however, you could do worse than James Carr, the libertarian candidate who has definitely made it onto the ballot. The Salahi news is a mixed bag for Carr - it might bring attention to candidates outside the two parties, but Carr may get lumped in with Salahi as non-serious challengers. Stay tuned.

No worries for Brat

So Dave Brat's campaign reported yesterday that he raised about $400k during the last quarter. I'm with Steve Albertson at The Bull Elephant: this is very good news for Brat. He's getting his money from individual donors, but that's not surprising; his out-of-nowhere victory against Cantor was sure to inspire fervent Tea Partiers to cut a check, at least during this past cycle. But it's a healthy amount, enough to dissuade any national Democrats from investing in the race. (Apparently his opponent Jack Trammell has only raised $155k - a fine amount for a Democrat in that district, but not enough to raise any national eyebrows.)

Brat is essentially winning a version of what political scientists call the "invisible primary" - the race for money among candidates before the actual primary vote. Here, instead of trying to fend off primary challengers, the Brat campaign needs to worry about national Democrats thinking he's a weak candidate and funneling money into his district. The current fundraising report should be enough to do that.

If you really have time to kill, you could look through Brat's FEC filing - or any FEC filing, for that matter. You can learn interesting tidbits of information. For example, it appears we know one Congressman who will take Brat under his wing if he wins: Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who has donated to Brat's campaign. If you want a clue as to how Dave Brat will operate in office, Massie is a Tea-Party backed freshman who symbolically voted against John Boehner in the 2013 Speaker elections. (Apparently he's angling for some kind of leadership role among "GOP rebels.")

Jack Trammell's Re-Launch

There's a nice profile of Jack Trammell in today's Richmond Times-Dispatch (for out-of-towners, the Paper of Record here in RVA). Two things to note:

  • The Trammell campaign has to be very happy with the tone of the article. While the authors acknowledge the demographic mountain he's got to climb in the district, it does note the opportunity a fellow neophyte as an opponent presents. More importantly, Jack airs out some policy positions. Knowing Jack a little, I know he's sincere about wanting this campaign to be about an exchange of ideas. Hopefully Dave will follow suit, but it will be interesting to see how much he believes in his frontrunner status. (It would be ironic if Dave avoided debate, considering how much he criticized Cantor for ducking him.)
  • Jack's cleaned himself up, with a shave and a haircut! He's making the rest of us shaggy academics look bad.