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June 11, 2014 5:21 PM Don’t Pin the Tail on the Donkey

By Ed Kilgore

I mentioned at Lunch Buffet that WaPo’s Scott Clement did a quick-and-dirty analysis of the turnout patterns in VA-07 and threw large buckets of cold water on the self-serving rationalization of Cantor fans that Democrats crossed over in large numbers to croak their hero.

Subsequently Cantor pollster John McLaughlin, who is struggling to explain why his very recent survey found his client up by 34 points (a mere 45 or so points off the actual results), tried again to pin the tail on the Donkey Party, as reported by National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher:

“Over the weekend Democrats like Ben Jones and liberal media were driving their Democratic voters on the internet into the open primary,” McLaughlin wrote. “Eric got hit from right and left. In our polls two weeks out Eric was stronger with Republicans at 70% of the vote, but running under 50% among non Republicans.”
“Untold story,” McLaughlin continued, “is who were the new primary voters? They were probably not Republicans.”

So don’t blame me for failing to unearth the nefarious liberal scheme, right?

Now The Upshot’s Nate Cohn has looked at the returns closely and rigorously, and trashes the Stolen Primary hypothesis pretty systematically:

Mr. Cantor lost by an 11-point margin, and he lost just about everywhere in his district. Mr. Brat fared best in heavily Republican Hanover County, while Mr. Cantor kept the race closer in the more competitive Richmond inner suburbs.
There were undoubtedly Democratic spoilers. (In Virginia, there is nothing to stop Democrats from voting in the Republican primary, or vice versa.) In the most heavily Democratic precincts, there were as many or more Republican primary voters as there were voters for Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate, in the 2013 general election for governor….
But it would be hard to argue that Democrats made up the margin of victory. Turnout was still far, far higher in Republican precincts. Democratic areas did not contribute a large number of votes: Only 5,722 votes were cast in precincts where Mr. Cuccinelli failed to eclipse 40 percent of the vote. Mr. Brat won by 7,212 votes over all.
Nor did Democratic areas contribute significantly to Mr. Brat’s margin of victory. Mr. Brat carried precincts won by Mr. Cuccinelli with 56 percent of the vote, about the same as his tally across the district. In areas where Mr. Cuccinelli broke 60 percent of the vote, Mr. Brat won by a 17-point margin, with more than 58 percent of the vote.
Mr. McLaughlin blamed Democratic voters for the rise in turnout. But in Henrico County, where 2012 primary turnout is available by precinct, the largest increases in turnout came in heavily Republican areas. The increase in turnout in Democratic precincts was more significant on a percentage basis, but those areas contributed very few additional votes.

Maybe Dave Brat benefited marginally from crossover votes, but it’s pretty clear Cantor lost the conservative GOP “base,” and thus the primary.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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