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Dismissing Brat

Ryan Nobles interviews Rep. Eric Cantor and asks about the primary challenge he faces from Prof. David Brat. When offered the chance to respond to Brat’s numerous charges about Cantor’s performance as the district’s representative, Cantor deflects the criticisms. When asked if he might debate Brat, Cantor demurs, saying we’ll just have to wait and see what happens as the campaign season gets underway:

Take away from this what you will. Nobles notes [1]:

Engagement will be a key for Brat and a big way to make that happen would be with a debate. A possibility Cantor didn’t rule out, but for the most part just ignored.

A time-honored strategy that has served Cantor and others very well.

Back In February, Paul Goldman and I wrote in the Washington Post [2]:

Even a lackluster, underfunded challenger starts with a seeming 40 percent floor as the “ABC” – Anyone-But-Cantor — candidate. Henrico, and to a lesser extent neighboring Chesterfield County, would likely decide a competitive election in the district. Both are served by the same media market. Primary turnout in Virginia skews to only the most highly informed and motivated voter.

This means regular news consumers will prove the key demographic. They should skew toward “throw the bums out,” Tea Party backers. A smart anti-Cantor campaign, backed up with money and resources by anti-establishment Republicans from around the country, would be potent. Once a populist fire gets lit, all the endorsements and high-dollar fund-raising can’t put the blaze out. As Joe Louis warned Billy Cohn: You can run but you can’t hide.

Brat and his team were handed ample kindling to start such a fire at the Henrico GOP meeting, where slating [3] was in the air and only narrowly beaten back.

That result remains quite telling. Despite what Mr. Cantor told Ryan Nobles about folks in the 7th district not really caring who is up or down in the contest, Cantor’s team is paying extremely close attention. And so are those who have long sought his defeat.

The question is whether the sparks from that first, albeit indirect, fight indicate trouble ahead for Cantor. I still don’t think so, but it can’t be dismissed. One item that could help clarify the situation is fundraising. As Ryan Nobles wrote, “Brat has yet to file a financial disclosure report for his congressional campaign. Cantor had close to $2 million cash on hand at the end of 2013.”

Old and incomplete data. Once we see the figures, for both men, we will have a better handle on where the race could be heading.