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POLITICS: PennAve

Dave Brat effect? How the Virginia primary could affect other races

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Politics,Virginia,Betsy Woodruff,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Joe Carr,Dave Brat

It’s the win that launched a thousand fundraising letters — call it the Brat effect.

When Randolph-Macon College economics professor Dave Brat defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in what might be this century's most-gobsmacking American political upset, people noticed. And other candidates challenging strong incumbents hope that they can tap into the wave of optimism that surged through Tea Partiers this week.

One Republican pollster said that Cantor's loss -- and any ensuing grassroots energy -- is unlikely to change the results of any primary contests. In the primary contest with the highest profile, state Sen. Chris McDaniel's contest against incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, the terms of engagement have very much been defined, he continued -- that race is about Mississippi, Cochran's record, and the comparative merits of the two candidates.

“Brat/Cantor doesn’t hurt from a tactic point,” said the pollster, arguing any impact on the race would be in McDaniel’s favor. “Momentum begets momentum. It’s something you can talk about, but I don’t know that it alters the structure of that race, which already favors McDaniel.”

The Tennessee contest might be more interesting, but that remains to be seen. State Rep. Joe Carr, who is challenging Sen. Lamar Alexander, has struggled to raise money, boost his name I.D., and increase his standing in polls. He also failed to file his personal financial disclosure forms on time, and his campaign's financial disclosure forms have drawn questions from the Federal Election Commission. One Tennessee political observer suggested these factors could have played a role in Carr's struggle to win endorsements from the prominent, deep-pocketed outside groups that lined up behind McDaniel, Matt Bevin (the Kentucky businessman who challenged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and lost to him), and others.

Carr’s campaign manager, Donald Rickard, said he thinks Brat’s win will help the challenger gain momentum. And he said that once the news broke of Cantor’s defeat, the campaign started getting calls.

“It all started immediately after about ten o’clock on Tuesday night,” he said. “Just an influx of everything. Everybody’s talking about it. The question is, is our race the next Dave Brat race?”

Carr has appeared on CNBC and "Hannity" since then, and Rickard said the campaign has been contacted by numerous major national news outlets; reporters and pundits looking for the next Dave Brat are all eyeing Carr. And all that earned media is helping with fundraising, he adds.

“It’s a game-changer in that it brings a lot more attention to our race,” Rickard said of Tuesday’s results.

Pick a poll at random —- it won’t suggest Carr is the next Dave Brat. But if people start thinking as much, that could still be a boon for his efforts.

Carr is in D.C. Thursday-Friday, and he met with Sen. Mike Lee Thursday afternoon.

“We meet with everybody, especially Senate candidates,” said Lee spokesman Brian Phillips.

Whit Ayres, who has done polling for Alexander, said the Tennessee race has a lot more in common with the primary in South Carolina than in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District.

“He and Lindsey Graham have a lot of similarity in how they have handled their reelection campaigns,” said Ayres, who also did polling for the South Carolina Republican senator. “They both have been very, very focused for a very long time, they both have a raised a lot of money, and they both have opponents who nobody has ever heard of.”

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Betsy Woodruff

Political Writer
The Washington Examiner