When Randolph-Macon College economics professor David Brat announced a challenge to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District Republican primary several months ago, many wrote his campaign off as a quixotic whim that would go nowhere.
It was an improbable, if not impossible, quest.
But the surprising results of Saturday’s upset victory by a Tea Party-backed candidate over Cantor’s hand-picked candidate for the important position of chairman of the 7th Congressional District Republican Committee, along with the hostile reception Cantor’s speech received at that event, have given the rookie political candidate national attention and momentum.
On Tuesday the Washington Post published a lengthy article documenting Cantor’s Saturday debacle, suddenly changing the dynamics of the race. The article, written by two of the Post’s top national correspondents, was very harsh on Cantor and elevated Brat from a candidate with no chance to one with “momentum,” as its headline stated.
The story also noted that national conservative leaders are beginning to take a closer look at the race.
Travis Witt, chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation, says there is more than wishful thinking behind the Post’s description of the Brat campaign’s momentum.
“After the 7th District convention David Brat has an incredible mount of momentum,” Witt told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. “The difference will be the grassroots activists’ time spent knocking on doors.”
But can dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Tea Party volunteers knocking on doors over the next three and a half weeks reach enough voters to overcome Cantor’s huge financial advantage? As of March 31, reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by both campaigns showed that Cantor had more than $1.9 million cash on hand, while Brat had only $42,000.
In today’s political world, marketing operations often matter more than ideological purity. Without money, you can’t buy television and radio ads, direct mailers, or robocalls.
But Brat’s campaign manager, Zach Werrell, told the Post on Wednesday that Brat’s fundraising has picked up significantly since Saturday’s event. In fact, Brat “has twice as much cash on hand as on the last filing period [March 31].”
If Werrell is right, Brat now has $84,000 cash on hand, narrowing his financial disadvantage from $1.858 million to $1.816 million. Given the scale of Cantor’s resources, Brat’s recent fundraising surge is insignificant.
Still, Werrell and the Brat camp remain optimistic.
“It’s getting exciting — and I’m not BS-ing you,” Brat told the Post in an interview. “This district is conservative and idiosyncratic, and they’re not overwhelmed by the establishment and their millions. It’s David vs. Rome.”
The Brat campaign need only look a little more than one hundred miles to the south for further qualified encouragement. On May 5, underfunded Tea Party-backed challenger Frank Roche won 41% of the vote in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District Republican primary against incumbent and establishment favorite Renee Ellmers (R-NC).
Though that race was not close, it was far more competitive than the financial resources of each campaign would have suggested. Ellmers spent over $654,000 to win 21,387 votes–a cost of more than $30 per vote. Roche, in contrast, spent only $13,323 to win 15,000 votes–a cost of less than $1 per vote.
Conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham argued another $250,000 spent by outside national Tea Party groups might have given Roche a real chance of defeating Ellmers.
While several high profile conservatives–author Ann Coulter, talk show host and author Mark Levin and direct mail pioneer Richard Viguerie among them–have endorsed Brat, to date no national Tea Party group has endorsed him and committed significant financial resources to independent efforts in support of his candidacy.
Lacking such outside financial support, Brat is more likely to experience Roche’s fate than score a monumental upset of Cantor on June 10.
Though Brat cannot pay for expensive television ads like Cantor, he has proven adept at generating publicity through free “earned media.”
One of his most effective tools for securing media coverage has been his unanswered challenge to debate Cantor.
Cantor’s team has avoided a debate with Brat, but that approach does not sit well with many of the voters in the 7th Congressional District. After all, the western and northern part of the suburban Richmond district–the portion that includes Goochland, Louisa, Spotsylvania, Culpepper, and Orange counties–was part of the Fifth Congressional District in 1789 where then-rival candidates James Madison and James Monroe engaged in what was probably the most significant series of Congressional debates in American history.
It was, arguably, these debates between Madison and Monroe that gave us the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, as author Chris Rose wrote in his book Founding Rivals.
At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and in the Virginia State Ratification Convention, Madison had sided with Alexander Hamilton and argued against the need for the Bill of Rights. Individual rights, he believed, were implicit in the text of the Constitution and there was no need to clearly specify them.
James Monroe, at the time identified with the “Anti-Federalists,” thought otherwise. As the two men, friends who disagreed on this key point, traveled throughout the newly created Fifth Congressional District debating openly before small and large crowds, Madison realized the intensity of support for Monroe’s position.
As a result of that direct interaction with the voters of the district, Madison changed his position on the Bill of Rights during the course of those debates, and promised that, if elected, he would introduce and support legislation in Congress to add twelve amendments to the Constitutions.
Madison defeated Monroe in the election, and, true to his word, managed the passage of legislation to add twelve amendments to the Constitution. Ten of those amendments were quickly ratified the states, and became the part of the Constitution we know today as the Bill of Rights.
As Brat’s team continues to point out, the reality of campaigning against Eric Cantor in 2014 bears little resemblance to the 1789 campaign between Madison and Monroe.
As an example, they point to the aggressive techniques the Cantor team used in their ultimately unsuccessful effort to secure the chairman’s spot on Saturday.
As the Washington Post reported, “Cantor’s associates churned out mailers to support Cobb, a friend since he and Cantor met at a local Rotary Club meeting in 1992. Cantor’s camp paid $3 apiece in postage to send personalized trinkets to party loyalists. And on convention day, the committee bought up all the Short Pump Hilton’s conference rooms to stymie Brat and provided day care for the kids of Cobb supporters. Cantor hosted a breakfast.
Judson Phillips, a resident of the 7th Congressional District and founder of Tea Party Nation, had a harsh assessment of Cantor’s tactics.
Phillips, who attended the event, wrote that “Cantor’s campaign had secured all of the conference rooms in the hotel so challenger, conservative economic professor Dave Brat had to hold his reception at a Honey Baked Ham store across the street. Cantor’s forces had spent a lot of money on advertising to get their man reelected and even paid for tour buses to bring in supporters from distant parts of the District.”
Cantor’s team then relied on one of the oldest tricks in the books, one similar to the tactic used by Karl Rove in 1973 when he won a campaign to become president of the College Republicans.
Despite the chicanery surrounding the rules, Cantor’s candidate was ultimately defeated.
But Cantor’s tactics generated even greater energy among Brat’s Tea Party supporters, who are animated by what they consider to be the establishment’s general disregard for fair play.
Though polls indicate the race is not yet close, Brat sees it differently.
“I’m a rookie, he’s never gone negative, and he’s putting my face and name on Fox News, which is unheard of,” Brat told the Washington Post on Saturday. “If they’re doing that, that means their internal polling shows that I’m not at zero. I’m a risk of some sort.”
Image source: Watchdog