Eric Cantor Takes Nothing for Granted

Lone Jewish Republican Fights Hard in Safe District

Running Hard: Eric Cantor represents a safe Republican seat in Virginia. But in a tricky political climate, he is campaigning harder than ever.
nathan guttman
Running Hard: Eric Cantor represents a safe Republican seat in Virginia. But in a tricky political climate, he is campaigning harder than ever.

By Nathan Guttman

Published October 10, 2012, issue of October 12, 2012.
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“Congress has always been a whipping boy, we know that,” Cantor told the Forward, but he argued that the real obstructions were mounted by the Democratic majority in the Senate, not the Republicans controlling the House. “So, again, there is a difference and we’re out making sure people understand where we are.” Toni Michelle Travis, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University, believes the politics related to Cantor’s leadership in Washington will have scant impact on voters in his district. “Most people don’t even know what it means to be Majority Leader, except that he is on TV more,” she said.

As thousands of participants prepared to leave Cantor’s Republican Roundup in Richmond, his rival, Wayne Powell, held his own, notably smaller, rally a few miles away. An estimated 100 supporters gathered in a high school gym to hear the Democrat’s views. It was a shoestring operation, with family members helping out and staffers who doubled as stage workers stacking folding chairs as the event ended. “There’s a lot of discontent with Cantor and his positions on fiscal issues,” said Harriet Cobey, who attended Powell’s gathering.

Powell stressed that he is a “Democrat running as a Democrat,” but a recent TV ad put out by his campaign ends with the tagline “Wayne Powell, a Democrat who just may be your kind of Republican.”

“Being a Democrat in these areas is tough,” said David “Mud Cat” Saunders, a political strategist working with the Powell campaign. “You tell someone you’re a Democrat, you might as well tell them you’re a child molester,” he said.

The Appalachian-born political consultant believes that Democrats should come to Southern and rural voters with a “big tent” approach and work to dispel the notion that Democratic candidates are all about “tax and spend.” Eric Cantor, he believes, “has warts” and is not undefeatable. Polling done by the Powell campaign found that Cantor, despite enjoying a double-digit lead, has a low favorability rating and is viewed by voters as too focused on national issues, instead of on the district’s needs. One of these national issues could be Iran’s nuclear threat.

In an interview Powell told the Forward that he opposes a rush to war against Iran, saying that Cantor’s views on the issue are irresponsible. “I don’t like the concept of pre-emptive war,” Powell said, adding that any such war is “got to be something more than just ‘well you know, they may do something’ kind of thing.”

But like Cantor, Powell’s biggest challenge may not be the guy he’s running against. While he goes door to door, trying to convince Virginia voters to turn against Cantor, Powell’s own party seems unconvinced that he is a viable candidate. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which funds Democratic races, chose not to direct any resources to Powell, a clear sign that the party does not believe in his chances to beat Cantor. “I believe I’m a winner but they don’t know me that well,” Powell said in response.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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