When the House majority leader spends millions of dollars on a reelection campaign — especially against a little-known political novice who is not considered a serious threat — the national media are sure to notice.
That's not because Rep. Eric Cantor's challenger, Randolph-Macon College economics professor Dave Brat, has begun to show some unexpected momentum. Quite the contrary: Cantor's campaign spokesman is right when he says his boss is "well-known, well-liked, and well-respected" in his district. And he's certainly expected to win.
Instead, the contest has drawn such outsize attention in large part because of the effort Cantor felt he had to pump into it, running hard for the kind of safe seat party leaders once could take for granted. And for that he can thank immigration reform.
Indeed, Cantor has expended unusual effort (and funds) against a seemingly harmless opponent, going to the trouble of running negative TV ads and sending mailers defending his position on immigration legislation after Brat successfully directed the debate away from local jobs and toward a national issue.
It's yet another piece of evidence that nominating contests are no longer completely friendly territory for Washington operators. While party leaders used to rule over local politics while dealing with messy legislative sausage-making in Washington, they are now getting into the mud with increasing frequency at the local level.