Yesterday, the D.C. establishment was shocked by House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss. Here are some random thoughts from South Florida. This upset serves as a good reminder of the three important lessons that all incumbents need to learn:
• It is a privilege to serve your constituents. As Tip O’Neil once said, “All politics is local.” He understood that the number one job of an elected official is to serve the constituents. The biggest complaint that Congressman Cantor was that his constituents thought he was serving the K Street lobbyists rather than them. Prior to the primary, Congressman Cantor was booed at a Republican gathering. This should have served as a red flag, despite his poll numbers.
• You are the only person who can define himself. Although the issue of amnesty was the issue that the media pickup during this primary race, Professor Brat hammered the Congressman for crony capitalism, being beholden to the K Street lobbyist, themes were not picked up by the national media. My advice to Professor Brat is do not define your campaign on the issue of immigration alone. That may have worked in the primary, but this is the general election. Use your economic background to discuss the issue of crony capitalism and let that be the focus of your campaign. The national media or the Democrats will not do you any favors. And;
• Debate your opponent. If you are not ashamed of your record, debate your opponent. Give yourself the opportunity to not only define yourself in the campaign, but attack the caricatures. One’s refusal to debate his opponent added to the perception of an out of touch Congressman. An interesting comparison would be South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham. Senator Graham was another target by the grassroots as being out of touch. Yet, he had no problems debating his primary opponents. Unlike the Congressman, Senator Graham won his primary. If you are ashamed of your record, then debating your opponent is not a good thing.
Unfortunately, Congressman Cantor did not learn these lessons.
Speaking of the campaign, the Congressman’s campaign staff needs to review how they conducted this campaign, specially their polling data. It would be interesting to note how were the prospective voter’s reaction when someone called from Congressman Cantor’s campaign. Given his constituent’s mood, this should have been picked up quickly, if volunteers reported this to his field staff. There was a disconnect somewhere along the line. If I was looking for a campaign consultant, I would like to hear their explanation of this disconnect.
Finally, with regard to immigration reform, I do not believe Cantor’s defeat would have decreased the possibility of reform. As I wrote in one of my earlier blog postings, I do not believe that there will be immigration reform, primarily because both sides in the debate see no value toward a solution. Both sides see that it is easier to do nothing, blame the other side, and raise money for their cause.