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After Cantor’s loss, incumbents brace for primary challenges

June 23, 2014 at 6:23 PM EST
Voters in seven states will head to the polls Tuesday for another set of primary elections. Since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss in Virginia’s Republican primary two weeks ago, incumbents all over the country are scrambling to secure victories. Judy Woodruff talks to political editor Domenico Montanaro about key races, including Mississippi and New York.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tomorrow brings another set of party primary elections across the country. There are key races to watch in seven states, including Mississippi and New York.

But since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss in the Republican primary in Virginia two weeks ago, incumbents all over the country are taking no chances.

Well, here to talk with us again is the NewsHour’s political editor, Domenico Montanaro.

Domenico, welcome back.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, Political Editor: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the reverberations of Eric Cantor’s losing, as we just said, being felt all over and maybe more than anyplace else in Mississippi.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Absolutely.

And this has really given long-shot candidates everywhere the hope that they have been looking for. They’re raising money off of this in all kinds of states all over the place. You talked about Mississippi. We have been watching whether or not incumbent Thad Cochran could wind up losing to state Senator Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party challenger he has there.

And, remember, he got into this runoff after not being able to get to the 50 percent threshold June 3. Now there’s been a whole slew of things that have been happening between these two candidates, including Cochran now feeling like he needs to reach out to black voters and Democrats to try to convince them to put him over the top, which is a really difficult thing for Republicans to do, no question about it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what is his strategy? McDaniel — Mississippi very conservative state, McDaniel fresh face. Senator Cochran has been around a long time.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, the first thing was that you saw Haley Barbour, former Mississippi governor, who is a big Cochran ally, say, look, you don’t need this guy McDaniel in there because he’s going to be against all, for example, federal funding of education.

Well, funny things happened over the last couple of weeks, because McDaniel has actually kind of backtracked on that statement. So, you have actually had both candidates kind of become a little bit more liberal, oddly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and — so that’s in the South. And let’s quickly talk about two other races, move all the way up north to New York State. It’s — I guess it’s the central part of the date, Utica, Binghamton.

This is a race, another Republican incumbent — he hasn’t been around as long as Thad Cochran, but he is a congressman and he’s facing a conservative challenge.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Yes, two-term Congressman Richard Hanna, who is going up against a state representative in Claudia Tenney.

And nobody else really as strongly has kind of taken up this Brat pack mentality is what she’s calling it. She says she wants to be part of the Brat pack because Dave Brat is who wound up taking out Eric Cantor. She has raised a whole lot of money off of this. She has had a lot of support from some talk radio hosts who have said is, you know, Hanna going to become the next Eric Cantor? And she tweeted out a message saying, yes, we think he is.

Now, the interesting thing here, this is a real swing district, actually. This is a district Mitt Romney only won 49.2 to 48.8 percent over President Obama. And Democrats didn’t even field a candidate. They missed the deadline, so this is it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if she wins, that gives the Democrats a little bit of hope.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, it could. But they didn’t field a candidate, so they are actually — they’re out of it. So, you know…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean it’s too late.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: It’s too late. They missed the filing deadline. So, that is one reason why a whole lot of life, as people say, is showing up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let’s talk about one other New York district, and that’s in New York City, Manhattan, Harlem, some of the Bronx, and that’s longtime Democratic incumbent Charlie Rangel. Now, here is a Democratic incumbent who is facing a challenge.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Right.

So, we’re seeing a little bit of an anti-incumbent wave, as we have been talking about, if this winds up happening here, where Charlie Rangel could lose. Part of the issue for Rangel is he has this three-way race, where you have got Charlie Rangel against state senator Adriano Espaillat, who would be the first Dominican to make it into Congress, and then a popular black pastor in the district, Michael Walrond.

And he took a church that only had about 300 members out to now 9,000. And the whole Harlem political machine that Charlie Rangel has really been in charge of for a long time has really tried to put a lot of pressure on him to get out of the race. And he’s refusing to do so.

So the Rangel folks are worried that he could siphon off some of the black vote, especially now, when this district has changed as much as it has, because this district used to be…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, let’s look at this map. It’s changed.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Yes. I mean, this district used to be majority African-American through Harlem, but you can see the green section, plus the blue, used to be what the district was before redistricting.

And then what happened was, they added these purple sections up top in the Bronx, which is a little bit — was a lot more heavily Latino. So you took a district that was, you know, 46 percent Hispanic. Now it’s 55 percent Hispanic, 40 percent of the district-foreign born, and most of that is Dominican.

So that is really where — you know, Rangel only beat Espaillat by about 1,000 votes last time, in 2012, and immigration has only grown in that district. Plus, you add the fact that he’s 84 years old, served since 1971, and Espaillat has really tried, as well as Walrond, to say this guy has been around too long.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, quickly, what is the argument that Rangel is making?

DOMENICO MONTANARO: The argument he is making is, hey, look, I have been here. Yes, there was this censure in 2011 where he, you know, didn’t get — he was hit for not paying taxes on a Dominican villa.

But he says, you know, he has the power and connections in Washington, D.C., to be able to still get things done in his district, even though he’s not allowed that seniority still. He says, this is my last term. He wants to serve out what he sees as a bookend, with President Obama leaving, having been there for civil rights movement all the way through, and wants to end it here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s fascinating, incumbents in both parties biting their fingernails.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Yes. It’s really going to give us an important look on whether or not they can survive this time and whether or not the Cantor thing was just an aberration or if it’s a trend.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Domenico Montanaro, thank you.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Thank you.