House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s pollster is blaming thousands of Democratic voters for his client’s surprise primary loss on Tuesday but David Brat’s campaign didn’t spend any time targeting Democrats, at least according to one of Brat’s consultants.
Steven Adler, a former Democratic consultant who was one of the inventors (along with Mark Sullivan) of the Voter Activation Network (VAN), was contracted by Brat’s campaign. Adler sold his half of the company, which has since merged with NGP, in 2005 and founded rVotes five years later.
Adler says Brat’s campaign used rVotes to expand its universe beyond the traditional Virginia GOP primary voters being targeted by Rep. Eric Cantor’s campaign. Adler, who previously told C&E he as an apolitical "computer guy" when VAN was founded, said several Tea Party campaigns had donated their data to Brat to allow him to expand his targeting universe.
“Now, suddenly he had access to hundreds if not thousands of different codes,” said Adler. “Funky stuff like anything from ‘voter owns only American cars’ to ‘known patriot group member’ to ‘voter flies a flag’ or ‘voter has an NRA sticker on their car.’ They were aggressively using the system to microtarget.”
Brat spent only $1,500 for using rVotes — about 1 percent of his total campaign’s budget. Adler said the campaign worked out a deal to buy a full membership, which can run as high as $20,000, if Brat won the primary.
Cantor’s pollster pointed the finger at an unexpected surge in primary turnout. “We were polling a universe of people who voted in one of the last three Republican primaries and said that they were likely to vote in this Republican primary,” New York-based pollster John McLaughlin said in an email to C&E.
He pointed to the increase in turnout from 46,000 two years ago to more than 65,000 on Tuesday. “Untold story is who were the 19,000 new primary voters? They were probably not Republicans,” said McLaughlin.
Cantor dropped more than $5 million, mainly on TV advertising, consultants, lawyers, and fundraising.
“He just took the advice of the typical Republican consultant and spent money the old fashioned way,” said Adler, who likened Brat’s 12-point victory to the Revolutionary War. “The patriots were outnumbered and outclassed but had that ground-game advantage,” he said.