Eric Cantor Loss

More from this show

For the first time, a sitting House majority leader was defeated in a primary election. Virginia’s Eric Cantor lost to Tea Party activist Dave Brat. Patrick Kenney, the Interim Vice Provost and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University and a Professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies, will discuss what the loss means for the GOP and the Tea Party.

Ted Simons: Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor's loss to Dave brat marked the first time in American history that a sitting U.S. house majority leader was defeated in a primary election. To discuss the fallout from Cantor's loss, Patrick Kenney, interim vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor in the school of Politics and Global Studies. Good to see you.

Patrick Kenney: Thank you.

Ted Simons: This primary loss by Eric Cantor, this primary loss, how surprising is that?

Patrick Kenney: Very surprising. If you look at the overall numbers it is almost unheard of in the house of representatives that actually any incumbents lose always under 2,3% -- in a primary, always under two to three percent, and certainly leadership almost unheard of, first time ever in history. Primaries came in in the early 1900s, that is a 100-year run and that is the first time that happened.

Ted Simons: Did a tea party candidate win this thing or did Eric Cantor lose it?

Patrick Kenney: Probably a little bit of both. Cantor, probably, he had a lot of money he could have spent. He was sitting on a nice war chest that he didn't use. He spent a lot of time in D.C., and that was resonating negatively back in the district. The tea party has a strong following in certain sectors, certain areas and locations. And this is obviously one of them. And they can always rally out and increase turnout a little bit and it looks like that is what they did.

Ted Simons: This is a suburb of Richmond. Is the kind of area that might be similar to suburbs here in Phoenix?

Patrick Kenney: Sure, and in Arizona, in particular, you have elements of the tea party. The question always is what is the percentage within the Republican Party? And that varies anywhere depending on the congressional districts, not state-wise and it may run as small as 10 or 12% of the Republican Party up to maybe 30% of the Republican Party. When you get in the 20 to 25% range, if turnout is low, they might have a particularly strong influence.

Ted Simons: Basically when we hear about Eric Cantor and his image has always been as an ultra-conservative, and he loses because he is not conservative enough, again, is that a focused message on this district, that candidate, and his opponent? I don't think people in Richmond even knew all that much about this guy, this professor, I guess, is it so focused that people in Arizona don't take a step back or does everyone take a step back?

Patrick Kenney: I think everyone takes a step back. There's some really interesting Research, unsafe at any margin, meaning that Congressmen always worry about this. This is one reason why incumbents raise so much money and have so much money. They always worry about this. This happens -- this one is really unusual, but incumbents do lose once in a while in the primary and once in a while in the general. They always worry about this. All incumbents take a step back when this happens and reassesses. I do not know what the internal polling showed -- obviously they were off. He was not engaged in the campaign --

Ted Simons: That was going to be my next question. Candidates have their internal polling, when warning flags show up you would think he would get out of Washington D.C. it's not that long a trip down there to Richmond, and take care of business --

Patrick Kenney: House primaries, general elections, in particular, very difficult to poll. People often aren't sure ahead of election day, too far ahead of election day exactly which district they're in, exactly which Congressman represents them at any one time. Media markets cut across congressional districts a lot of times. That would be classic for Arizona. One media market covering all of the Phoenix area, almost all of our congressional districts touch into that media market. People are seeing all different kinds of names of house members on TV. Sometimes they're going, is that my Congressman? I'm not sure. A hard time identifying which voters will vote in which particular primary and that clearly must have been going on here.

Ted Simons: As far as issues are concerned, it sounds like immigration was a factor in this case. The idea that he was willing to talk and think about immigration reform may have cost him as far as the primary is concerned. Is that what you are seeing as well? Is immigration even going to be touched by the GOP for the rest of the year?

Patrick Kenney: I haven't seen any good exit polling that makes me think that immigration tipped it one way or another. That is the way it is being talked about somewhat because the media was talking about that and urging people because he looked like he might compromise a little bit on that, maybe that -- the tea party needs to take that into account. I think it is the probability of anything major on immigration between now and the Election Day is almost zero. I mean, I can't -- especially from the house. I can't imagine anything major. Maybe there could be a minor thing, but I don't think so. Senate gave them a bill some time ago and it has not moved at all.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the Senate, Lindsay graham, part of that bill, he wins in a cakewalk. It makes you wonder is this an anomaly or a trend. And what does this say now? What does this mean?

Patrick Kenney: If you look at all races over time, this is an anomaly. And it -- if you think of things being distributed in kind of a pattern where we can predict some of these kinds of outcomes, no one would have predicted this, so this is an anomaly, something odd happened between the turnout and between Cantor taking good care of his district, and if it looked like maybe he hadn't been doing that, he didn't engage quite right. Variables aligning in one particular race are pretty unusual. The second part of the question, is there a trend here? The tea party overall probably since '10, they're probably ebbing just a little bit because they have targeted a number of races that they're trying to do well in. And this is a big splash for them. It looks like they have had some success, they had success in Tennessee where they pushed a race to a runoff. But probably overall, they're not quite as powerful as they were one or two election cycles ago. Not so much anything that they've done, but I think the main stream in the Republican Party, especially the money behind the Republican Party, traditional Republican Party, they have engaged to be sure that their candidates -- this doesn't happen to very many candidates.

Ted Simons: That was going to be my next question. Does the republican establishment here do they fight back or do they start playing ball a little more?

Patrick Kenney: No, think they continue to fight back. The think overall the republican establishment and -- what I mean by that, traditional republican constituencies, chamber of commerce, small businessmen, officers in the military, overall, long-time rural voters, small town, long time traditional republican voters have been with the party a long time, especially the money folk that support that, they probably want to run candidates that a little closer to the middle of the spectrum, rather than that far to the right, overall.

Ted Simons: Okay. So, with that in mind, what lessons did we learn here? And I know a republican strategist, his quote was the grass roots are in revolt and they're marching. Is that valid and is that something that we will see more of as we head to November?

Patrick Kenney: I think there is always the risk for incumbents that there will be a bit of a grass roots movement to overthrow them. It is rare it mobilizes because they need a lot of money to get that done. Nevertheless, there is always an opportunity in a -- in a -- when turnout is low for a grass roots kind of organization to build a little quickly and make a difference in a race. And this may be is what happened here. Social media might have helped a little bit, too. That kind of stuff can happen quick. We don't know a lot about that. We are trying to learn more about that.

Ted Simons: You mentioned tea party, grass roots and money needed and that may be a problem for -- at what point does the big money, I know the KOCH brothers are involved in these tea party groups -- but at what point does the big money say grassroots, I'm going that direction?

Patrick Kenney: I think some already has. That depends -- I think it depends where the money wants to align. They're deciding which races they want to get involved in and when they get involved in a race, they hope to tap into the grass roots. I think the causal flow is that way. The strategists with the money decide these candidates look vulnerable, we need to do this here and try to engage the grass root.

Ted Simons: Interesting stuff. Quite a surprise.

Patrick Kenney: A very big surprise. No question about that.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Patrick Kenney: Thank you.

Patrick Kenney:Interim Vice Provost, Dean and Professor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Earth Day Challenge graphic with the Arizona PBS logo and an illustration of the earth

Help us meet the Earth Day Challenge!

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 12

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

The Capital building with text reading: Circle on Circle: Robert Lowell's D.C.
May 2

An evening with ‘Poetry in America’

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: