Eric Cantor’s Historic Loss, By the Numbers

Representative Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, in Washington, D.C.

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Representative Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, in Washington, D.C.

It was one of those nights you’ll remember years later where you were and what you were doing.

For this political junkie, the first indelible image of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s unprecedented defeat — or at least the real possibility he could lose — was the website of the Chesterfield County elections office, showing the second-ranking House Republican losing in numerous county precincts shortly after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Eastern time.

The Associated Press called the 7th District Republican primary for Cantor’s challenger, college economics professor Dave Brat, a few minutes before 8 p.m. Brat, who ran to the incumbent’s right, won by 11 percentage points in one of the biggest election upsets in the history of Congress.

Tom Daschle, a former Senate Democratic leader from South Dakota, lost election back home in 2004. The late Democrat Tom Foley, then-House speaker, lost back home in Washington state in 1994. Yet Cantor has been “primaried” — a modern-day signature tactic of the Tea Party movement that has targeted and removed establishment Republicans from office before general election voters ever had a say.

Here’s a look at the Cantor-Brat primary by the numbers:

0: The number of times a member of Congress of Cantor’s rank had been unseated in a primary before yesterday. Since the post of House Majority Leader was created in 1899, its occupant had won 55 straight renomination bids, as University of Minnesota political analyst Eric Ostermeier detailed in this great post.

2: Cantor, who was first elected to the House in 2000, became the second member of Congress in the 2014 election to be denied renomination. Texas Rep. Ralph Hall, 91, was beaten in a Republican runoff last month. Click here for a list of every member of Congress defeated for renomination in elections dating to 1968.

38%: The increase in turnout in the 7th District Republican primary from 2012 to 2014. See the below chart.

Cantor pollster John McLaughlin, who had the majority leader up by more than 30 percentage points among Republicans a couple of weeks ago in his surveys, pointed to mischief from Democrats who participated in the Republican contest. Virginia law permits so-called crossover voting, as there is no registration by party. There was no Democratic primary yesterday in the 7th, a Republican-leaning area.


8,471: Cantor’s vote total plunged to an unofficial 28,898 in the 2014 primary from 37,369 in the 2012 primary, a 23 percent drop and a difference of 8,471 votes. 

$5.4 million: How much money Cantor raised for his campaign committee between Jan. 1, 2013 and May 21, according to Federal Election Commission data. Cantor didn’t spend all of that on his re-election; he helps raise money for other House Republicans as a high-profile member of the party leadership.

Still, the big total underscores Cantor’s fundraising clout and his ties to the party’s donors, including on Wall Street. And Cantor did have a huge financial edge over Brat, calling attention to diminishing marginal returns of campaign spending. There are limits to what campaign money can do to correct a candidate’s serious liabilities.

$207,000: How much money Brat raised through May 21, the most recent date for which detailed campaign receipt and spending statistics are available.

95.07: Cantor’s lifetime score from the American Conservative Union, which rates members of Congress on key votes on a scale of zero to 100. The ACU gave Cantor a rating of 84 for his 2013 votes.

65: The number of times that Brat’s television ad ran on broadcast stations in the Richmond-area district, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, an ad tracker. Brat’s spot accused Cantor of being insufficiently committed to repealing President Barack Obama’s health-care law and opposing a rewrite of immigration laws and a “clean” increase in the federal borrowing limit. Brat’s positions were in line with the limited-government views of the Tea Party movement.

1,038: That’s how many times Cantor’s four ads ran on broadcast television, CMAG data show. There may be debate about whether two of Cantor’s ads attacking Brat as a “liberal college professor” inadvertently backfired on the incumbent by raising Brat’s profile. The American Chemistry Council, a Washington-based trade group, aired one pro-Cantor ad 348 times on broadcast TV.

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