Internal Polls Are Great, Aren’t They?

Your newly unseated House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, sacked in Virginia’s primary election last week. (AP)

Back in 2011, I had the opportunity to meet Otis Rolley, a native of Jersey City, New Jersey who was running for mayor after an eight-year run as Baltimore’s Director of Planning. As one who treasures infrastructure, I was drawn to Rolley’s background, and saw him as a possibly a great choice to lead the city.

I wanted to speak to Rolley directly to get a better understanding of his platform and politics, and we met at his campaign office on The Avenue in the neighborhood of Hampden. He was very gracious, and we spoke about what his vision was for the city. Regrettably, I don’t remember much of the specifics what we talked about. But what struck me was the confidence his team had in their internal poll numbers, which had Rolley’s team feeling pretty confident, since they showed him ahead of everyone in the field!

When I asked where they got the numbers from, or if I could see the data that was gathered, they politely declined, and asked me to simply trust what they were saying. Of course, as just a part-time security guard at the time, I had no choice but to go with their word. Rolley would go on to come in third place in Baltimore’s mayoral primary election, winning just over 9,400 votes.

Perhaps it was this inflated self-confidence that did in Eric Cantor, the seven-term GOP Congressman and former Majority Leader in the House who lost to Dave Brat in last week’s congressional primary in Virginia’s . The Washington Post reported that a poll conducted May 27-28 showed that Cantor had a 34-point lead over the economics professor, which obviously left the esteemed Congressman to pursue his very passionate steak habit:

Cantor’s campaign and leadership PAC spent about $170,000 at classic D.C. powerhouse restaurants including Bobby Van’s Steakhouse and BLT Steak, according to FEC records. By comparison, his primary opponent Dave Brat spent about $122,000 in his entire campaign.

“It’s rare that you would see a fundraiser at a Ruby Tuesday or a Chipotle,” said Lisa Spies, a veteran GOP fundraiser who worked on Mitt Romney’s Jewish and female outreach programs. “You’ve got to spend money to raise money.”

It is no wonder why there was such a frenzy among those of our craft to cover this monumental upset. After all, this was the first time in American history that a sitting House Majority Leader has been defeated in a primary election. In a post-Citizens United environment, the fact that this occurred in such a fiscally efficient manner was jarring as well. As expected, conservative talk radio hosts loudly declared Cantor’s defeat as the death-knell for comprehensive immigration reform, despite data that disproves such a claim.

So if a lack of Right-wing orthodoxy on immigration and an addiction to the finest dry-aged, grass-fed cuts of USDA Prime were not enough, what was the silver arrow that felled Eric Cantor?

As Brian Umana explains, it was being such an egregiously out-of-touch congressman in a state with open primaries:

The truth is that Cantor’s electoral demise did not occur overnight. It was the culmination of more than four years of grass-roots organizing, from both the right and the left, to unseat him. Behind the scenes, Cantor opponents who otherwise had little ideological common ground cooperated in his demise. I know, because I helped engineer it.

In 2010, I managed the general election campaign of Cantor’s Democratic opponent. I never expected us to win, but I was a 27-year-old looking to get involved, and I thought we could achieve some good even by losing the race. (I have since disengaged from partisan politics.) At that time, an “Anyone But Cantor” mentality was beginning to take hold in central Virginia and the Richmond suburbs. In this heavily Republican district, many Democrats and Republicans told me in conversations that they saw Cantor as a disingenuous political insider looking out for his own self-interest above the interests of his constituents.

All politics is local, proven once more.

National Journal’s Ron Fournier wrote that what happened to Eric Cantor should be a lesson to all those who lose sight of what elected officials were sent to Washington to do. That diametrically opposed political factions like liberals and the Tea Party were able to collectively sack Cantor is a sign that something does indeed have to give, as Umana confirms:

To my mind, though, Dave Brat’s victory and Cantor’s defeat should be cause for celebration among people from across the ideological spectrum. Anyone who wants their elected leaders held accountable—and reminded that they work for the citizens—might count Tuesday’s primary as a win. As Jonathan Blank, a partner in the Charlottesville arm of McGuire Woods and a former local Democratic Party chairman, told me happily: “It is another signal to both parties that the politics of ‘no’ is unsustainable.” There is another message from this, though. Any citizen who works hard and cooperates with others can make a difference in our society, and even in our electoral history.

I’m no fan of Dave Brat, a man who is even more extreme in his views than Cantor ever was. But at a moment when people do indeed feel marginalized by those who create laws, it’s hard to argue with the fact that when people realize the power they have at the ballot box, real change can and does happen.

Hopefully this sentiment will continue beyond this election cycle.

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