Pundits, prognosticators and backseat-driving know-it-alls are chatting up everything you need to know about House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) karma-driven primary loss Tuesday night, with politicos scrambling to understand David Brat: a once-puckish Tea Party upstart and Cantor twin with only $200,000 in the bank who managed to unseat the second most powerful cat in the House armed with $5 million plus.
But, the Spidey sense should buzz after those third-eye folks parse through Brat’s cleverly coded victory speech. The college professor wants to “… move the pendulum … back to the states, back to the localities” and push loaded stuff like raw constitutionalism with “free market and Judeo-Christian principles.”
Translated for a state that was once the Confederate capital, states’ rights nostalgia equals Voter-ID restrictions; Judeo-Christian principles means Bible-thumping; and free market sounds like predatory lending and sticking it to the working and middle class.
That’s reason enough that African-American voters in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District should and can try to win that seat back for Democrats.
Black voters are the decisive key to a general election upset that’s as tectonic-plate-shifting as Brat’s primary sucker punch. At the moment, though, the Dems seem satisfied to gleefully stomp on Cantor’s political grave. Stuck on conventional wisdom that’s similar to those “establishment” Republican rivals who got punked by Brat, Democratic strategists have already resigned Virginia’s 7th to its red-state faithful.
That would be a mistake, though, and a nasty face palm to a rather robust black Virginia electorate. While it’s overwhelmingly white, Cantor’s district is also nearly 20 percent black, according to Census Bureau data—in line with Virginia’s overall population. The state’s changing fast, and it’s creating all sorts of creative voting blocs of color—a major reason President Barack Obama won it in 2008 and 2012.
It depends now on what Democrats do and the appeal of Democratic nominee Jack Trammell—who, like Brat, is a Randolph-Macon College professor. You can laugh; did you laugh when a black man with the middle name Hussein ran for president six years ago?
It’s not like Cantor’s seat was all that locked up for Republicans: the majority leader went from garnering 76 percent of the vote in 2004 to snagging only 58 percent in 2012. And while the district has been reliably red since 1996, it leaned blue enough to vote for current Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in 2008.
Democrats could easily energize the 7th District’s black voters alongside its Latino electorate, which stands at 5 percent, Asian Americans (also 5 percent), and any of those among its foreign-born demo (12 percent) who might be eligible to vote. There’s also enough young and traditionally Democratic-leaning younger voters and likely some moderate Republicans who are shell-shocked from House-GOP-instigated gridlock, who won’t be feeling Brat’s extreme ideology.
Trammell is about as well known as a talk show host on public access TV, and Democrats have their work cut out for them. So get to it, fam.
Some of us grown-ups are tired of these new kids who like to wreck things in Washington.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and regular contributor to The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. Follow him on Twitter.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.