November 6 has come and gone, and Democrats, Liberals and Progressives the Commonwealth over have breathed several hearty sighs of relief. Despite a contentious and worrisome election season, Virginian's can now look forward to a second term for President Obama and six years with Senator Kaine.
But a problem remains.
A problem that espouses extreme rhetoric yet doesn't have the guts to identify as such. A problem that blocks, stalls, impedes and stonewalls. A problem that stands before the steady trudge of history screaming for it to stop. A problem that continues to weigh down the Old Dominion like a self-important albatross. A problem named Eric Cantor.
The shortcomings of the current House GOP leader are far too extensive to list here. But even as a casual reader of the news and this blog can attest, Eric Cantor makes headlines more for his anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-compromise cry-baby antics than for any significant legislative accomplishment. Lucky for us, while Mr. Cantor is a significant impediment to progress, he's also exceedingly beatable.
Case in point: This last election cycle, Eric Cantor was challenged by Democrat Wayne Powell, a community lawyer from Chesterfield and a first-time candidate. Mr. Powell ran a spirited, passionate campaign that took Cantor to task and held his feet to the fire. As the deputy director of communications in the final months of the campaign, I saw first hand the groundswell of anti-Cantor sentiment that seethed just below the surface of the 7th district. And although we lost, I am proud of the candidate I supported, the work we did and the ground we covered. This race also proved that Eric Cantor is far from the the unconquerable behemoth that has the DCCC shaking in its boots.
Firstly, there's the much-discussed Hickman Analytics poll released in June that revealed Eric Cantor's popularity had taken a substantial hit due to, among other things, his antiquated stance on women's health issues and his refusal to work with the president. The poll also showed that 43 percent of 7th District residence would vote to replace Cantor, as opposed to only 41 percent who maintained their support.
What's more, this race marked the first time in ten years that Eric Cantor had agreed to debate an opponent. Coupled with a surprising onslaught of expensive ad buys and direct mail attacks, and its clear Mr. Cantor is terrified that his grip on the district is slipping.
The news organizations called the race rather early for Cantor. After all, it would seem a foregone conclusion that a well-funded and well-connected candidate like the GOP Leader would carry the day in such a conservative district. Indeed, Powell garnered 42 percent of the vote to Cantor's 58 percent. Yet this seemingly straightforward electoral sweep belies a rather heartening truth for Virginia Democrats. Say what you will about the nature of 7th district politics, but the numbers don't lie. And the numbers point to a slow but steady trend in favor of Democratic candidates.
To wit: In 2002, Eric Cantor's first challenger garnered a mere 30 percent of the vote. By 2008, challenger Anita Hartke had bridged that gap and came away with 37 percent. And this year, Wayne Powell earned the support of 42 percent of the electorate, the highest of any challenger to date. All told, this reveals an embarrassing loss of 12 percentage points for Cantor over ten years. Not exactly a recipe for long-term electoral success.
So what is the ultimate take away? What can we learn from yet another stinging defeat at the hands of Virginia's biggest problem?
That he is beatable. Not easily, and not quickly. Make no mistake: Cantor is a formidable foe, with a campaign war chest that would make even the most seasoned Big Oil CEO dab at his brow with his silk pocket square. And while the electoral trend within the district is indeed a positive one, it has been subject to its own disappointing fits and starts.
Our path isn't an easy one, but it is a clear one. By coupling a tough, progressive candidate with an electorate growing in anti-Cantor sentiment, it is conceivable to foresee a 7th District gone blue. But it's not enough to know what to do. We have to exercise our power a citizens to get it done. Pressuring local and state-wide Democrats to embrace, nominate and fund an unabashed Democratic candidate for the seat is only the first step in a long and winding road fraught with political peril.
The phrase "fortune favors the bold" is attributed to ancient Roman playwright Terence. Despite the intervening years, 7th District Democrats would do well to adopt it as their own.
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