Rep. Eric Cantor, the deputy Republican whip, would be his party’s best shot at holding John Warner’s Senate seat.
As Patrick Ruffini has pointed out, Cantor is ideally positioned as a congressman from the Richmond suburbs. He can connect with downstate voters without alienating northern Virginia suburbanites. He is a proven money-raiser. In a primary, the conservative Cantor would have to be favored to beat northern Virginia moderate Tom Davis.
Everyone who follows politics knows that Virginia is changing, and that 2008 is shaping up to be another bad year for Republicans. But Virginia isn’t becoming a liberal state. James Webb didn’t run as a liberal when he narrowly won his Senate seat, and the state’s voters enacted a ban on same-sex marriage the same day he won. What doomed George Allen was the perception of intolerance and backwardness. Cantor won’t be tagged that way. The fact that he’s Jewish will help.
Republicans shouldn’t let worries about 2008 become self-fulfilling. The state is not yearning to have a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators. (Incidentally, we suspect that Senator Webb will take a more conservative line if he is serving alongside a Republican from Virginia.) And if Cantor wants to be a senator, this is the year to run. Running in 2012 against an incumbent Webb will probably be harder.
It may be that Cantor wants to stay in the House. If the Republicans take the majority in 2010, he will have a good shot at being House whip or majority leader — maybe even Speaker some day. If he runs for the Senate next year, he will have to fight two tough races back-to-back, against Tom Davis and then Democrat Mark Warner. Both of them will be well-funded.
The implications for his career are of course for Cantor to decide. But conservatives who are nervous about next year’s Senate races should be rooting for him to jump in.