CANTOR CAMPAIGN GEARS UP–Schapiro: Va.’s ‘Overdog’ plays the victim

By Jeff E. Schapiro - Posted: Saturday, April 19, 2014

BratCantorWebEric Cantor is the Brat in this race.

The Dave Brat, that is.

Like his struggling, poorly financed tea party opponent in the June 10 Republican congressional primary, Cantor is casting himself as an aggrieved party; someone disappointed and distressed about the direction of a federal government dominated by Barack Obama.

In speaking against it — this is one of Cantor’s jobs as U.S. House majority leader and a prospective speaker — he has come under direct attack by the Democratic president. If this sounds like the theme of a television commercial, it is. But it’s also Overdog — Cantor’s nickname since his days in the General Assembly — as victim.

A 30-second advertisement, which started running this past week, is a stand-in for the globe-trotting Cantor. He’s on spring break, sort of. Cantor is leading a House delegation, eight Republicans and one Democrat, on a nine-day trip to Japan, China and South Korea. The trip’s focus: the economy, trade, security and territorial disputes.

In the ad — it includes footage of Obama calling out Cantor for blocking legislation — an announcer intones, “Barack Obama attacked Eric Cantor. Why? Because Obama wants more spending, more welfare and higher taxes. But Eric Cantor is fighting back to reduce taxes, cut spending and repeal Obamacare. Eric Cantor’s plan creates jobs, strengthens families and empowers people, not government. The choice is clear. The decision is yours.”

The spot is designed to mobilize primary voters, many of whom are tea partyers and Libertarians increasingly at odds with business-centric, Establishment-type Republicans such as Cantor. For purposes of the primary — it is tantamount to election in the heavily rural, Henrico County-anchored 7th District — Cantor wants these voters to think he’s one of them.

This flies in the face of the record. Since the Republicans’ 2012 catastrophe, in large part, a backlash to their party’s perceived rigidity, Cantor has pushed a relevance agenda. A recent example: a law he co-sponsored with the state’s two Democratic senators promoting pediatric medical research. Just signed by Obama, it’s named for a young Virginia girl who died of an inoperable brain tumor.

In suggesting Republicans emphasize problem solving over philosophical purity, Cantor is making committed enemies of uneasy friends.

On a single day not two weeks ago, Cantor’s more conservative critics wired up — on closely read political blogs and news websites, including The Wall Street Journal and The Daily Caller — no less than four stories attacking him. The bill of particulars was stinging: Cantor is disdainful of the right’s agenda. Cantor is too cozy with the corporate class. Cantor sabotages others angling for speaker.

True to form, Cantor reacted.

First, he was front and center during the House vote on April 10 to pass, albeit barely, a federal budget written by fellow Young Gun Paul Ryan, a presidential prospect and one of Cantor’s potential rivals for speaker.

By cutting taxes and safety net programs and increasing defense spending, the Ryan bill unravels the hard-fought deal that reopened the government after the 2013 shutdown to which Cantor consented in another try at killing Obamacare. The measure is going nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

But for a House Republican caucus made up of anti-taxers and budget-balancers, it is an election-year talking point. As leader, Cantor is responsible for arming the ranks with issues and ideas.

Next, Cantor turned to his re-election.

It is a foregone conclusion that he will retain the seat he first won in 2000. But Cantor needs to win big. Crushing Brat, a college economics professor who has raised $89,000 to Cantor’s $2 million, could silence malcontents within Cantor’s caucus. It will be a lesson to restive Republicans at home that crossing Cantor can be politically fatal. And it will allow Cantor to concentrate on being a big macha — that’s Yiddish for an important person — and becoming a bigger one.