House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss to his little-known primary rival Tuesday night was made all the more surprising by Cantor’s own pollster’s confident predictions on the race.
Less than a week before Cantor’s upset loss, the pollster, John McLaughlin, released a survey indicating Cantor had a 62% to 28% lead over his Republican opponent, Dave Brat. Brat would go on to win by 11% — a huge, 45-point shift that was far outside the poll’s margin of error.
In an interview with the National Journal after Tuesday’s election, McLaughlin accused Democrats, especially “Dukes of Hazard” actor Ben Jones, of meddling in the race. In Virginia, voters can cast ballots in whatever primary they like. Jones, who once ran against Cantor himself, had reportedly called on Democrats to do exactly that and back Brat.
“Over the weekend Democrats like Ben Jones and liberal media were driving their Democratic voters on the internet into the open primary,” McLaughlin said while noting an “almost 50% increase in turnout” from two years ago. “Eric got hit from right and left. In our polls two weeks out Eric was stronger with Republicans at 70% of the vote, but running under 50% among non Republicans.”
“Untold story,” McLaughlin continued, “is who were the new primary voters? They were probably not Republicans.”
McLaughlin, whose firm has been criticised for badly missing in a number of other races, also argued that last-minute attacks had hurt Cantor after he polled the district.
“[A]ttacks on immigration and amnesty charges from the right in last week hurt,” he said.
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