Eric Cantor Defeat: Tea Party Looks For Next Upset

Image: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor arrives for a news conference

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) arrives for a news conference after telling the Republican caucus that he will resign his post at the U.S. Capitol June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Cantor announced that he will resign his leadership position in the House of Representatives on July 31 after losing a primary race to Tea Party-backed college professor David Brat. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Eric Cantor's shocking primary defeat on Tuesday not only sent shockwaves through Capitol Hill and his state of Virginia – but also surely rattled the nerves of other Republican incumbents facing Tea Party challenges in the coming weeks.

And the challengers aren’t wasting any time trying to capitalize on the huge upset.

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Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party state senator who’s challenging Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in an upcoming June 24 runoff, used Cantor’s loss as a rallying cry in a fundraising email to supporters. “Help us pull off another stunner in Mississippi. What does [Cantor losing] have to do with the Senate race in Mississippi? I'll tell you: It's one more example of what can happen when true conservatives band together and demand better from Washington.”


"Eric Cantor isn't the only incumbent … who is going to lose his primary this year,” declared Milton Wolf, who is facing off against Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan, in two months.

“On Aug. 5th, it’s Pat Roberts' turn,” Wolf added.

And in Tennessee, incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is facing a crowded field of challengers in his Aug. 7 Republican primary.

"Sen. Alexander has a similar problem that Leader Cantor had in that he's out of touch with his Republican base in Tennessee," one of those challengers, Joe Carr, said on CNBC on Wednesday.

All three states – Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee – are the next Tea Party-vs.-establishment battlegrounds. And they come after early wins by the establishment.

In North Carolina, the Chamber of Commerce-backed Thom Tillis won the GOP’s Senate primary. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defeated Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin. And in a closely watched congressional primary in Idaho, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, easily defeated his Tea Party opponent.

But the Tea Party has been on a roll in the past two weeks. First, in Mississippi, McDaniel forced Cochran into a runoff – where challenger McDaniel probably holds the advantage.

And then came the loss by Eric Cantor, the No. 2-ranking House Republican, in his GOP congressional primary.

Yet political observers say that there are some key differences between Cantor’s defeat and the later contests in Kansas and Tennessee.

Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, says that Alexander is running an aggressive race in Tennessee, and he has spent a considerable amount of time in his state – something Cantor didn’t do in Virginia.

And she notes that while Roberts has given his challenger plenty of ammunition to use against him – like questions about whether he resides in Kansas or the Washington, D.C. area – opponent Wolf has received negative attention, too, about gruesome X-rays he posted on his Facebook page.

“I don’t think a single negative word was ever written about [Cantor opponent Dave Brat]. Wolf hasn’t been that fortunate,” Duffy said.

And she adds that too many are making too much of one primary defeat. “Both the Tea Party and Democrats have overstated what Cantor’s loss means for them in upcoming primaries and in November.”

But what it has done – at a minimum – is give these incumbents a wakeup call that anyone, including a high-ranking leader, can go down to defeat.