The Cantor Effect: If the House Majority Leader Can Lose, it Gives Hope to Other Challengers

State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, made the rounds in Washington last week and was a guest on Laura Ingraham's radio show. He had interviews with Sean Hannity, Politico, and The Hill.

Washington is a place where Carr would like to raise some money in his primary race against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Ingraham's radio show is where a guy named Dave Brat raised his profile by being a frequent guest these past several months. Brat's upset victory over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has given hope to challengers across the country and sent shivers down the spine of incumbents.

If it can happen to the House Majority Leader it can happen to anybody.

Some potential donors may be waiting for Tuesday's runoff election where U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, who trailed in the primary, is widely believed to be in serious trouble.

So are Carr's chances improved by what happened in Virginia and might happen in Mississippi? You would think so.

George Flinn, from Memphis, is also in the race and he can self-fund; conventional wisdom has it that he will split the anti-Alexander vote. It would be better for Carr going head-to-head in an either/or vote.

But Carr is the conservative candidate. He has the endorsement of 60 tea party groups statewide. It may be that Flinn will draw voters from Alexander who wouldn't be voting for Carr.

Flinn, who has spent millions running for Congress in West Tennessee, may do well there and reduce Alexander's total but have little effect on Carr's conservative base.

Alexander has always run strong in Republican East Tennessee, though a lot of party regulars out at the Lincoln Day dinners are not really enthusiastic about him.

But is there a movement out there in Tennessee these days that puts a candidate who has been elected governor and senator—twice—in danger?

There is certainly a lot of unrest about Washington. Everywhere you go people are disgusted with the place. Congress's approval rating is still less than 20 percent. But are people disgusted with their delegation?

The only congressional seat that appears to be in play is the 4th District and Scott DesJarlais' troubles are well documented.

Where is the evidence of unrest among the populace?

If some special-interest groups are emboldened by the Cantor defeat, some money might come Carr's way. If he gets enough money to be competitive it will get interesting.

The turnout in the Cantor race was 12 percent. What sort of turnout will there be for the Republican primary in August in Tennessee? Look at the lousy turnout in the recent Knox County primary. It was the same statewide. Low turnout favors the passionate challenger and is a threat to comfortable incumbents. Ask Cantor about that.

What is the driver to bring a large turnout in August? Constitutional amendments on abortion and changes in the court system will be on the ballot in November. Judge retention elections? Really?

Nobody is going to slip up on Alexander. He has raised a ton of money and he will spend it. His name recognition has to be near 100 percent. That's both good and bad.

The election may be a referendum on Alexander but Carr has to show that he is a credible alternative.

And if Gordon Ball, a conservative "Ned McWherter Democrat," wins the Democratic primary, Alexander's job won't be over. If Carr and Flinn get a decent anti-Alexander vote—say Alexander only wins with a plurality or gets less than 60 percent—independent voters may decide go with the Democrats in November. Or they may stay home.

The amendment to let the Legislature restrict abortions may motivate Democrats to flock to the polls to vote against it. And Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell will be getting trashed in neighboring Kentucky.

Don't bet against Alexander, but it isn't a lock.