The idea that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) would worry at all about his re-election seems hard to believe. The conservative Republican has fared quite well in all of his campaigns; he’s already quite powerful by Capitol Hill standards; and in the not-too-distant future, Cantor might even be well positioned to be Speaker of the House.
And yet, the Majority Leader appears to be feeling quite a bit of anxiety about his future.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is boasting in a new campaign mailer of shutting down a plan to give “amnesty” to “illegal aliens,” a strongly worded statement from a Republican leader who’s spoken favorably about acting on immigration.The flier sent by his re-election campaign comes as Cantor is under pressure ahead of his June 10 GOP primary in Virginia – and as the narrow window for action on immigration legislation in the House is closing fast. Cantor’s flier underscores how vexing the issue is for the GOP.
In the larger context, it’s not helpful for Republicans when the Majority Leader brags about killing a bill that gives “amnesty” to “illegal aliens,” while his party tries to maintain a half-hearted pretense that blames President Obama for the demise of immigration reform.
But at this point, Cantor doesn’t appear to care too much about the larger context or message coherence. He’s worried about losing – the rest can be worked out later.
In fact, the degree of Cantor’s anxiety is pretty remarkable. The Majority Leader is up against David Brat, a conservative economist at Randolph-Macon College, who’s eagerly telling primary voters that Cantor isn’t right-wing enough. What was once seen as token opposition, however, has clearly gotten the incumbent’s attention.
Cantor was concerned enough last month to launch a television attack ad, which was followed by Cantor’s anti-immigrant mailing, which culminated in yet another television attack ad that the congressman’s campaign unveiled yesterday.
These are not the actions of a confident incumbent.
As best as I can tell, there are no publicly available polls out of this Virginia district (though it’s safe to say Cantor has invested in some surveys of his own). With that in mind, it’s hard to say with any confidence whether the Majority Leader is overreacting to a pesky annoyance or a credible challenger.
But Jenna Portnoy and Robert Costa reported recently that it’s probably the former, not the latter.
Most Republicans continue to believe Cantor is safe; he won a primary challenge two years ago with nearly 80 percent of the vote. But the prospect of a competitive and bruising challenge to the second-ranking Republican in Congress is embarrassing to Cantor – and is rattling GOP leaders at a time when the party is trying to unify its divided ranks.
We’ll know soon enough just how serious the threat is – the primary is in 13 days – but as the election draws closer, let’s not forget that Cantor was booed and heckled by Republican activists in his own district just two weeks ago.
No wonder he seems so nervous.