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Cantor’s Loss: Lessons Learned … Again

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To my many friends on both sides of the political aisle, if you learn just two things from the Eric Cantor loss last month I hope you infuse your political blood with:

1 – Challengers don’t win, incumbents lose.

2 – Relationships require work.

A year ago when two senior Republican members of the Virginia of House Delegates lost their primaries, I pointed out that they lost because they failed to work their districts properly and relied on the power of being the incumbent.
Several of the supporters of the challengers, including one of the challengers, tried to take me to task for not acknowledging the efforts of the grassroots campaign that had just been waged.
Having run and won grassroots campaigns, I can assure you I know what that takes – sweat, shoes, time, and a set of open ears.

So, I take nothing away from David Brat and his win – at all. I’ve know David for about 10 years having worked with him on school choice legislation. He’s a good guy – smart, friendly, and sincere about making substantive changes. We even travelled together to Tallahassee to learn how Florida implemented their McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program.

Lesson #1 – Challengers don’t win, incumbents lose.

Watch this award winning 1990 commercial from United Airlines.

They lost the business. Plain and simple. They had the business and the customer fired them.

Don’t believe me? I sent Dr. Larry Sabato Lesson #1 last night and he wrote back “Exactly right.”

Last night while watching our youngest son’s baseball season come to an end in the Tuckahoe National League Championship game, my phone started blowing up with texts, tweets, calls, emails…everything. From all over the country – Eric Cantor was losing. Then not coming back…uh oh…it looks like he has lost. No, seriously. OMG. Is this happening? Is Cantor losing? Very rare was the message David Brat was going to win. The ratio was about 100 to 1 on Twitter. Cantor lost.

John’s team  – the Padres – didn’t lose as much as the Pirates won. The Pirates were supposed to win, they are a better baseball team. Period. They knocked out 13 hits to our 1 and outscored us 10-2. We were doing great until that bottom of the 5th grand slam home run.

*Sidebar:* Anyone who says baseball is a slow game has never kept the scorebook. It teaches you a lot about the game and really draws you into its beauty. A lot like politics. Keeping score while the House Majority loses his primary, however, is damn near impossible.

And we’re back.

Lesson #2 Relationships require work.

Watch the same United Airlines commercial again. That old friend? Yeah, he was taken for granted and the relationship faded. Business lost.

Losing a vote happens quicker. MUCH quicker.

Not bad people. Just a bad relationships, right?

Relationships are that third Being that exists between people.

Relationships move in one of two directions – in or out. Closer together or further apart. There is no static in human relationships.

A couple of years ago during lunch, Eric and I talked about the challenges that he faced as Majority Leader. He was flying or driving to over 300 fundraising events a year, was constantly surrounded, as he was that day, by his bodyguards, and rarely spent time in his district. Over 300. He spent more time with constituents who could not vote for him –  someone else’s constituents.

After awhile, the distance between the incumbent and the voters became too far apart. People didn’t show up to vote for Cantor. Brat was in the district knocking on doors. Targeted doors. And a lot of them.

Many voters last month who did vote for Brat told me that they had voted against Cantor but wanted him to win. They just wanted to send Washington a message. After all they’d vote for Cantor in November. One Brat voter said, “I’ll hate myself if Eric loses.” Okee Dokee.

Relate. From the Latin “relat” or bring, carry back, again, home, return.

Relationships require the work that essentially takes you back to the place where that Being Between began so it can live, breath, and grow.

Enter non video story.

One day late in the 2002 General Assembly session, a fellow freshman Democrat, Floyd Miles, rose from his seat during Morning Hour to introduce his son to the House of Delegates. We all applauded welcoming the young man to the Chamber as we do for all introduced guests. Then Floyd said something that put lumps in our throats and tears on our cheeks.

Best that I can recall since it haunts me to this day. Here it goes.

“I brought my son to work today because he thinks I don’t love him. He said, ‘Daddy, if you love me, why do you spend all your time in Richmond?” And I just wanted to tell my son that I love him….Son, I love you.”

(damn these onions)

And that’s why I was keeping the scorebook of my son’s baseball game as I was watching the political game on my phone. Not the other way around.

I was running a little late to the game. John told the head coach that I was out of town and would not be there. HUH? After dropping him at school that morning, my son thought I was not going to be at his game? Even though I told him I would be?!


Relationships require work. Constant work. Constant return.
Especially for incumbents. Or they lose.
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