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But then why did Graham — who vocally championed the immigration bill, while Cantor distanced himself from it — win walking away in conservative South Carolina? Why did Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — who is just as much an establishment figure as Cantor and more favorable to the immigration bill — thump his primary opponent a few weeks ago?
Was the difference that Cantor was caught napping? It sure didn’t look as though he was taking the race for granted. He spent so much money on attack ads that his opponent’s supporters took to saying that Cantor was running scared.
Was it then the openness of the primary — the fact that Democrats could vote in it — that cost Cantor the seat? A lot of elections feature loose talk about strategic voting in the other party’s primary, but it rarely amounts to much.
I don’t have a satisfactory answer yet, but I’m not going to trust anyone who makes a confident pronouncement about what this election means unless he saw this result coming.
Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg View
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Cantor has represented the sprawling Virginia district that stretches from Richmond to the Washington exurbs since 2001 and was widely considered a likely House speaker someday. It’s worth noting that the district, while Republican, isn’t exactly the Deep South and that Barack Obama won more than 40 percent of the vote in the last two elections.
The Virginia result means that the remaining four months of this session will be dominated by internal jockeying for leadership posts among the majority House Republicans. Boehner may escape without a challenger, but there will be intense rivalry for the No. 2 and No. 3 House posts. The top contenders will be House Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, who would like Cantor’s job, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. Emboldened by the shocking Cantor upset, members of the Tea Party caucus almost certainly will demand one of the top three leadership posts for one of their own. The most likely standard bearers from this contingent might be Louisiana’s Steve Scalise or Georgia’s Tom Price.
Albert R. Hunt, Bloomberg View
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