Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning defeat at the hands of a little-known, free market, economics professor is a hopeful reminder that sometimes the little guy can still beat City Hall.

Cantor lost his party primary to Dave Brat, a devoutly religious teacher who earned a masters in divinity degree from a theological seminary in Princeton, N.J., and then got a doctorate in economics which he taught at Virginia's Randolph-Macon College before running for Cantor's seat.

Few paid much attention to him, least of all the national tea party establishment who thought it was impossible to beat the No. 2 GOP House leader who was re-elected with 79 percent of the vote in 2012.

Major tea party organizations plowed their money into other high profile races, without much success lately, and Brat was left to scrounge money wherever he could. He raised a little over $200,000 to Cantor's nearly $5 million war chest.

But primaries can be giant killers because relatively few voters turn out for them. Get your voters to the polls in a low turnout race by appealing to hot button issues such as illegal immigration, the crooks on Wall Street, and the big spenders in Congress, and you can beat Goliath.

We're talking about very low turnout here: 36,110 votes for Brat (about the number of people who can fill a good-size baseball stadium), versus only 28,898 votes for Cantor.

It was a political shocker, no doubt about it, but it wasn't the unprecedented defeat the national news media called it, nor one with huge, long lasting implications about this fall's midterm elections.

Bigger congressional leaders have been taken down by come from behind insurgents before. Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley of Washington state was swept out of office in the 1994 general election when the Republicans decisively won control of the House.

And who can forget the stunning defeat of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota by Republican John Thune? There are a number of others in the political record books.

But in this case, Cantor had no one to blame but himself for not paying enough attention to this race, voter turnout, and Brat's message in a declining economy. Cantor was said to be aloof, spent too much time on party fundraising and not nearly enough time in his district.

Immigration is a big issue in Virginia, and Cantor had supported some kind of a compromise to begin fixing a broken system. But voters who turned out for Brat wanted no part of that.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.