Skip to comments.What Oklahoma’s Senate Primary Tells Us About Why Eric Cantor Lost
Posted on 07/01/2014 11:27:19 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Representative James Lankfords 23-point victory margin in last weeks Oklahoma Senate primary caught most pundits off guard. He had been opposed by leading tea party groups and leaders such as SCF, FreedomWorks, Ted Cruz, and Sarah Palin. He did not, however, get outside support from establishment groups like American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Neither fish nor fowl in this years tea party versus establishment trope, pundits quickly decided that Lankford must have been helped by his long association with a large Southern Baptist summer camp (Southern Baptists are easily the largest single denomination in the state) and by kind words from outgoing senator Tom Coburn. (see here, here, and here).
House majority leader Eric Cantors defeat also caught pundits off guard. Here was a tea party versus establishment race, but one in which no major tea-party group or politician supported the challenger. How could Cantor have lost to a political nobody? Pundits leaped into action, however, contending that Cantor lost because of a poor campaign, his support for some immigration reform, and his opponents endorsement by radio personality Laura Ingraham, among other explanations.
So what do these reactions to two very different races have in common? One simple fact: They have no data to back them up.
In the absence of lots of polling data, most pundits are rudderless when navigating the seas of post-election analysis. And when the polling is wildly off, as it was in the Cantor race, they find it even harder to explain what happened before their very eyes.
That wouldnt happen if they just listened to Yogi Berra. You can observe a lot just by watching, the Yankee great said, and so it is with elections. Election results themselves can often give strong clues as to why a campaign turned out the way it did.
Take the Oklahoma Senate race, for example. The map of the results shows a very clear regional divide between the center of the state, which went heavily for Lankford, and the rest of the state, which either went for Shannon or was closely contested (Lankford is in blue, Shannon is in red):
If the Baptists for Lankford theory is true, we should expect Lankfords support should rise as the proportion of Southern Baptists rise. And, thanks to the data available from the Association of Religion Data Archives, we can calculate exactly which counties fit that bill in the Sooner State.
Unfortunately for the pundits, the data do not support the Baptists for Lankford hypothesis. Baptists are strongest in Oklahomas east and south, but this is where Shannon was strongest. Moreover, Lankford received his strongest support in and around Oklahoma City, areas where Baptists comprise less than one-quarter of the population.
The Coburn explanation doesnt bear up under scrutiny either. If Coburns de facto endorsement mattered, it should have mattered more in the area of the state that Coburn knew best, the eastern second congressional district where he first won election. Yet this was Shannons strongest CD and Lankfords weakest.
So, why did Lankford win? The answer lies in comparing the map of the results:
With these three maps:
First, Lankfords congressional district, the fifth district, based in Oklahoma City:
The three counties in this seat were also Lankfords three best in the state. He received over 72 percent of the vote here, and that congressional district cast about 25 percent of the total statewide vote.
The second map shows the Oklahoma City metropolitan area:
Voters in these counties would have seen or read about Lankford in the prior four years in local newspapers or on TV news. They also would have seen his ads from prior races. The six counties in this area not in Lankfords district were his six next best counties. He averaged over 64 percent of the vote here, and these counties cast another 16 percent of the statewide vote.
The third map shows Oklahomas media markets:
Focus on the large market in the middle, the OKC market, the one where voters would have seen Lankfords ads and TV news appearances, and look again at the results map:
Lankford carried every county thats in this market and outside of the OKC metro area often by margins of 20 points or more. Indeed, his support virtually stopped at the media-market line. Outside of the OKC market, he only carried four counties with the 50 percent or more needed to avoid a runoff: Tulsa (Oklahomas second big city, and one with a relatively low Baptist percentage); Washington (northern Tulsa suburb); Jackson (on the border of the OKC market); and Choctaw (Shannon is half Chickasaw and the Choctaw-Chickasaw rivalry is deep and long-standing).
These data suggest that Lankford won primarily because of regional loyalty. Simply put, he started from the largest base imaginable, people knew and liked him, and Shannons millions of dollars or negative ads could not change peoples opinions.
The same effect was also noticeable for Shannon. He carried his regional base with over 70 percent, but Comanche County (in the Lawton/Wichita Falls media market) cast only 2 percent of the statewide vote. The tiny Lawton media market overall went for Shannon, but the other counties in it cast less 2 percent of the total vote. Shannon, despite support from national groups, was fighting uphill from the minute he entered the race.
This regional effect has been observed in virtually every contested race this cycle. Indeed, it showed up even in the Oregon Senate primary between establishment Monica Wehby and tea partier Jason Conger. Conger represented a state-house district in Bend, the largest city in Deschutes County. Despite being unable to counter Wehbys statewide TV buys, he carried Deschutes by 36 points.
So, what does this have to do with Eric Cantor? Simply put, the data show that he had no regional base. He not only failed to carry his home county of Henrico, but he lost most of the precincts in Henrico. Indeed, in Henricos 66 precincts, Cantor carried only three with over 60 percent. Jason Conger did better by far in his home county than Eric Cantor did in his.
Even though he was a twelve-year incumbent, even though he was the only candidate on the airwaves, even though he had all the advantages that incumbency can offer, when push came to shove, Cantor had no residual goodwill to fall back on.
The data from Oklahoma, Oregon, Mississippi, Georgia, and other contested races this cycle show that an incumbent who is known and liked can withstand vicious, well-funded attacks. The fact that Cantor could not withstand a campaign that had little money and little ability to communicate its message suggests that his goodwill had evaporated long before Dave Brat ever thought about throwing his hat into the ring.
As an Oklahoman, I’d say this is the best analysis I’ve seen on this race and I can’t fault any of the logic. I personally would have liked Shannon to have won but I don’t have any real problem with Lankford.
So the difference is that Lankford didn’t, if you’ll pardon the expression, piss all over his base and then expect them to ask for more?
Brat brilliantly hit Cantor with a two-fisted combo of immigration and Cantor’s Wall St. ties. Lankford’s record is fairly bland and difficult to attack successfully. Wehby is a RINO who would be another Susan Collins.
The judge (person who matches your ID to the registration book)said (while we were setting up so no voters around) that she went to church with Mr Lankford and knew him personally. Per the judge, a lot of what T.W. was saying was down right lies and distortions.
I do not watch television so am spared from most ads. I did however, catch a bit of one debate with all 6 candidates during a lunch break. From what I heard, a couple of the lesser funded contestants had some pretty good ideas.
If I were a registered Republican, the one I would've worked to get rid of is Tom Cole. I was saddened to see his strong margin of victory in the primary. He does generally have a narrow margin in the general so there's still hope.