House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s pollster is blaming Democrats for meddling in Cantor’s race and pushing Tea Party-affiliated opponent Dave Brat to victory.
He’s wrong, according to political observers and interpretations drawn from turnout results.
John McLaughlin, Cantor’s pollster, released a survey days before the primary indicating Cantor had the election in the bag. The poll showed Cantor leading Brat by 34 points. Since Brat ended up winning by 11 points, that’s a 45-point miss.
This is not the first time McLaughlin’s data has been off in recent elections, but he took advantage of comments from “Dukes of Hazard” actor Ben Jones to suggest Democrats swung the outcome of Cantor’s primary.
“That is … honestly, it’s just not possible,” said Geoffrey Skelley, an associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the publication headed by University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato. “That’s a bunch of bunk.”
Skelley told Business Insider it was plausible some Democrats turned out to vote for Brat and oust Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican. But there’s “no way,” he said, that higher turnout than normal for Democrats in an open primary was responsible for an 11-point margin.
Skelley pointed to preliminary data that doesn’t square with McLaughlin’s claims.
The first, and major, point is that Cantor received fewer total votes this year than he did in his 2012 Republican primary, a race he won by almost 60 points. In 2012, Cantor received 37,369 votes in the June primary. Two years later, he only managed to grab 28,898. If his level of support had stayed the same as 2012, he would have beaten Brat.
Then there is the evidence Cantor lost support in Republican-heavy districts, while voters in the most Democratic of precincts didn’t turn out. Michael McDonald of George Mason University tweeted a fantastic scatterplot showing the precincts with the highest numbers of registered Democrats produced the lowest vote totals Tuesday night:
Cantor, meanwhile, lost a ton of support in Republican-heavy precincts. In Henrico County, his home county, he received about 2,000 fewer votes than in 2012. In Hanover County, arguably the most Republican-heavy county in Cantor’s district (President Obama received only 31% of the vote there in 2012) the difference is staggering.
In 2012, Cantor received 6,838 votes — more than 76%. On Tuesday night, he got only 4,150 — 32%. Brat got 8,734 votes in the district. Overall, the district accounted for 67% of the 7,212-vote difference between Brat and Cantor.
“The fact that Brat crushed there is some indication of the anti-establishment feel that this result speaks very plainly about,” Skelley said.
Here’s a chat showing the vote totals by county. Cantor lost the three most heavy Republican counties — Hanover, New Kent, and Goochland:
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