David Brat the Giant-Killer: What a Tonic for Nan Rich
Around the State
Don't think what happened to Eric Cantor and the GOP machine Tuesday in Virginia couldn't happen to Charlie Crist and the Democratic Party power players in Florida.
OK, leading Democratic candidate Charlie Crist isn't the U.S. House majority leader and his competition in the Florida primary, former state Sen. Nan Rich isn't unknown tea party challenger David Brat.
Virginia Republican congressional primary: Cantor spent about $4.9 million on operating expenditures this election cycle, according to campaign finance records. He still had more than $3.7 million on hand late last month. "Who-Dat" Brat, meanwhile, spent just under $123,000 on operating expenditures. That was virtually the whole of his campaign stash.
Florida Democratic gubernatorial primary: Crist and a closely aligned political committee, "Charlie Crist for Florida," has exceeded $10 million to help fuel this year's campaign. Reports show Rich has raised an overall total of $348,804 in cash through April 30, while spending $244,554.
Virginia Republican congressional primary: An internal Cantor poll conducted May 27 and 28 -- less than two weeks ago -- showed the House majority leader ahead by 34 percentage points (62-28) over Randolph-Macon College professor Brat.
Florida Democratic gubernatorial primary: Crist polls head-and-shoulders above Rich -- probably a point spread similar to the May 28 Cantor-Brat spread. Much of the polling done, however -- particularly lately -- has skipped right over the primary, jumped straight into the Main Event against Republican Rick Scott, failing to include Rich as if Crist has no primary opponent.
Brat's campaign was utterly, totally grassroots. He and an enthusiastic entourage knocked on thousands of doors, marched in parades, spoke at luncheons, showed up at family picnics in the park, ate rubber chicken until it came out of their ears. Cantor, meanwhile, was largely giving the primary a miss. He thought he had it sewn up. (Tell me that doesn't sound familiar.)
"If you go door-to-door knocking, the American people know the country is headed in the wrong direction," Brat said on Fox's "Hannity."
He said he never considered his race against Cantor "a contest between the tea party and the Republicans." He said, "I ran on Republican principles."
In fact, according to The Washington Post, big national tea party groups didn't spend any money on Brat's behalf.
Then there's the shock element. The "who'da thunk it" element.
Big, unexpected upsets in congressional primaries have happened before -- just not often. Brooklyn-born, underfunded Elizabeth Holtzman came out of nowhere in the 1972 New York Democratic primary to upset Judiciary Committee chairman Emanuel Celler. Celler was a 50-year incumbent and the House's longest serving member at that time. But what a long way to go back -- 42 years -- to find a lightning bolt similar to the Cantor upset.
Marco Rubio came from outer space somewhere in 2010 to beat Crist in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate. Certainly, that was dramatic, if not exactly overnight. At one point Crist had a 40-point lead.
Am I the only one who felt a shiver of deja vu last night when Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said, "I'm as stunned as anyone. I've yet to find one person nationally or in the state outside the Brat circle who thought Cantor would be beaten."
More than deja vu, I could picture it happening again. I could hear that being said about Crist -- as a kind of premonition for Florida and the Democratic Party. Laugh if you want, but I doubt Cantor and his supporters are laughing now. Brat ate Cantor's lunch, 55.5 percent to 45.5 percent.
A jubilant Rich, meanwhile, speaking from her Weston home Tuesday night and reflecting on the Virginia Republican primary, said, "This result sends a message, and it's what I've been saying all along. Money and pollsters and political consultants are important to some extent, but they're no substitute for hard, grassroots slog, hitting a nerve with voters. That's what David Brat found out, too. It's the voters who have the final say."
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.