A shock wave. That’s the way area political experts described the stunning defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican whose hopes to become the next Speaker were washed out to sea on June 10 in a primary loss to David Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College.
For the region, Cantor’s loss will directly affect many political fortunes and cause a recalibration right down the ticket. First, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, who represents a portion of San Luis Obispo County, will get a sudden and unexpected opportunity to replace Cantor as majority leader. But the same anti-immigration reform wave that toppled Cantor could make McCarthy’s bid to move up less than automatic as others with stronger anti-immigration reform credentials vie for Cantor’s spot. Ironically, McCarthy’s core voters and backers, from large energy companies and agribusinesses in the Central Valley, are likely to favor limited immigration reform much more than the Tea Party insurgents.
“Just as the Tea Party’s strain of uncompromising politics was waning, this gives it a big, big boost,” said Herb Gooch, professor of political science at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
Another major impact of the Cantor defeat will be the fallout for incumbent 26th District Congresswoman Julia Brownley, a Democrat who lives in the Ventura County side of Westlake Village, facing a stiff challenge from Assemblymember Jeff Gorell in a district that includes most of Ventura County. One lesson is that running up a big war chest may not be enough. Brat’s low budget campaign bested a $5 million effort by Cantor.
But the lesson for Gorell is that he may need to invest heavily in distancing himself from extreme Tea Party views in a district where Latino voters play a crucial role. Registration in the district definitely favors Democrats, which means Gorell would have to attract pro-business moderates to win.
Farther down the ticket, Gooch notes, a resurgent Tea Party could give a boost to Rob McCoy, contesting for Gorell’s assembly seat against Democrat Jacqui Irwin, a Thousand Oaks city councilmember. McCoy could suddenly attract national funding.
Finally, this is a double-edged sword for former State Sen. Tony Strickland, a Ventura County Republican closely allied with Cantor and McCarthy in his quest for the House seat in the 25th district, which includes Simi Valley and the Antelope Valley. Strickland’s website currently boasts his endorsement by the Republican National Hispanic Caucus, but will that come down as the anti-immigrant surge peaks? Under California’s open primary rules, Strickland will face Stephen Knight, a Tea Party favorite, in the November election. Knight’s candidacy suddenly looks more viable, according to Gooch.
The bottom line is that the region’s incumbent-centric, sleepy 2014 campaigns have been jolted wide awake by Tuesday night’s bombshell.
[CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said Julia Brownley lives in Thousand Oaks. She lives in the Ventura County side of Westlake Village.]