As reported yesterday in USA Today, one of the most powerful members of Congress suffered a totally unexpected primary election defeat this week. And South Florida’s own underdog Jameel McCline for Congress campaign has come up with some unique takeaways from the story.
Analysts are trying to understand and explain why 7-time incumbent Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was beaten badly this week by unknown college professor David Brat. Brat was reportedly outspent 40-1 in the Virginia District 7 race, but still won by 11 points.
Pundits point to the immigration issue as a key to the upset. Brat attacked the conservative Cantor for showing signs of willingness to compromise on passage of immigration reform legislation. That got him the support of Tea Party voters and national conservative media, including popular radio host Laura Ingraham. The theory is that anti-reform voters got fired up, drove a higher than normal turnout, and fueled Brat’s victory.
A McCline campaign insider says Cantor miscalculated and misplayed the immigration issue not by taking the wrong position, but by failing to vigorously fight for it:
Cantor was right about conservative Republicans needing to compromise with moderates and Democrats to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. But instead of boldly advancing that position, he waffled. Instead of engaging and activating moderate Republicans around a key issue of social and economic fairness, he left it to Brat and conservative talk radio to stir up and turn out the more conservative and Tea Party voters."
In an exclusive interview, Jameel McCline said:
Americans need to believe their elected officials have the courage of their convictions. The more strongly-held those convictions are, the more consistent the courage to stand up for them, the more that voters know they can trust and count on you."
The McCline campaign sees important parallels between the Cantor upset and their battle to unseat 77-year-old, 11-time incumbent Alcee Hastings in the August 26th Florida District 20 Democratic primary. They think if you flip the script from conservative Republican to liberal Democrat, Hastings has some of Cantor's same weaknesses.
For instance: Putting ideological point-scoring and finger-pointing over concrete action. McCline, who identifies himself as a progressive Democrat, believes people are tired of incumbents who think if they cast congressional votes and give speeches and interviews that make enough of their ideological "base" happy, their job is done.
Americans of all affiliations and ideologies are fed up with the political status quo. Polls show nine out of ten people or so disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Lots of tough talk, finger pointing…and gridlock. Actions speak louder than words. We need bigger, bolder action."
McCline says incumbents on both sides of the aisle get too comfortable with their corporate-funded PACS, “Super-PACS” and Washington DC “Insider” status. He notes that Cantor wasn't even in his district on Primary Day, and says wherever he travels in Florida CD 20, people complain of never seeing Hastings, of him being "aloof" and "inaccessible".
Too many of these longtime incumbents spend more time traveling overseas than traveling the streets of their own district. They lose touch. Residents back home rarely see them, and can't even reach them on the phone…but lobbyists have lunch with them regularly, have them on speed dial..."
McCline is counting on the Cantor upset reminding voters that experience and incumbency are, in his words, "worth only as much as what you've made of them, worth only as much as you've used them to better the lives of the people of your district, state and country." Having already unveiled new "Action Plans" on Economic Fairness and Clean Energy, the former heavyweight champion McCline pledges to break congressional gridlock, with new levels of energy, determination and accountability.