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Cantor Loss May Hurt 2016 Republican Chances, Davis Says

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, speaks during a news conference after a House GOP Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on June 11, 2014. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Republicans won’t be harmed in the November election by the intra-party schism that ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, though inaction may affect the party’s presidential chances in 2016, a former congressman and party strategist said.

“They’ll have a good season, they’ll think everything is fine and well” in this year’s congressional election, Tom Davis, a Republican former representative from Virginia, said in an interview airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”

“Off-year elections are often about just sending a message,” Davis said. In a presidential election year, everyone shows up to vote and “all of sudden failure to act on immigration, and some of these other issues, could come to the front and are motivating factors for the Democratic base.”

Cantor’s loss this week to David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, will embolden Tea Party Republicans who challenge establishment leaders, Davis said.

“They see their leader being basically defeated for sitting down with the president, for trying to work out an immigration bill, for raising the debt ceiling,” Davis said. “It made a tough situation even tougher -- not just on immigration but on everything, at least through the primary season and probably through November.”

Cantor said he will step down as majority leader July 31 and serve out his term, which ends in early January.

‘Two Peas’

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking Republican and heir apparent to Cantor, is an “excellent choice” for majority leader, Davis said, calling them “two peas in a pod.”

Davis said he’s known McCarthy since the whip served in the California State Assembly, “and he impressed me then with his ability to work with people, to understand the big picture, to know you had to get to A to B and, no, it wasn’t going to be a straight line.”

McCarthy hasn’t yet drawn widespread opposition. Texas Republicans Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling debated though declined to run against him. Representative Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican, said yesterday he will seek the majority leader’s post. House Republicans plan a June 19 vote.

Davis said he expects Republicans to expand their lead in the House, where they hold 233 seats out of 435, in the midterm election in November. The Senate, now under Democratic control, is “clearly up for grabs,” he said.

Obama Approval

Republicans are buoyed by President Barack Obama’s sagging popularity. His approval rating was 43 percent in the most recent Gallup poll, conducted June 10-12, with a disapproval rating of 51 percent. The Bloomberg National Poll found the same job-approval rating in a survey run June 6-9.

Polls show the Democratic favorite for president in 2016 is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who hasn’t announced her intentions and is making a book tour. Her approval rating stands at 52 percent in a Bloomberg poll released yesterday.

The Republican field is wide open, Davis said.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee could be a contender if he gets in, and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has a “built-in base” of conservative voters, Davis said, while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush may vie for a right-of-center establishment mantle.

“I think it’ll be an establishment track and I think it’ll be a more conservative track and we’ll see what happens,” Davis said.

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