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How national tea party groups missed the David Brat boat

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David Brat’s surprise victory Tuesday over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was quickly embraced by the tea party movement – especially national tea party groups that have been looking to score a big win in their battle against GOP incumbents this cycle.

Leaders of the Tea Party Patriots quickly chimed in on Twitter:

In a post on the FreedomWorks for America blog, President Matt Kibbe wrote, “If you stop representing your voters, they will hold you accountable at the voting booth. We are proud to stand with Dave Brat in his election and look forward to working with him to reform Washington, D.C.”

And the Madison Project’s Daniel Horowitz crowed in a statement that “just a few short weeks ago, the Establishment was working the media over trying to shut the coffin on conservatives and the Tea Party.

“But first Mississippi, and now Virginia’s 7th show that the people, and not the political class will not accept a growing government dead-set on expanding their power, and passing policies that do nothing but line the pockets of special interests,” he added.

So how much did their groups spend to help Brat win?


Of the measly $4,805 in political expenditures against Cantor reported  to the Federal Election Commission, none came from the big national tea party groups, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation. The bulk was spent by a newly formed super PAC called We Deserve Better PAC on an online ad that attacked Cantor as pro-amnesty.

Meanwhile, several outside groups together spent $366,000 on independent ads, phone banks and mailers backing Cantor – including the American Chemistry Council, which put $308,000 into a TV ad, and the National Rifle Association, which spent less than $2,000 on postcards.

Heading into Tuesday's election, Brat was massively outspent. Cantor's campaign raced through more than $5 million on the reelection effort, while his challenger's campaign mustered less than $123,000.

The lack of financial firepower on Brat’s behalf may have been in part his fault – the largely unknown candidate, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., failed to show up to two gatherings of national conservative operatives and activists last month, citing finals.

But it’s worth noting that many of the national tea party groups that have been the most pugilistic about this year’s intra-party fights have not invested much money into helping the candidates on the ground. As we reported earlier this year, organizations such as Tea Party Patriots and the Madison Project are spending huge sums on fundraising, salaries and consultants, while just putting a tiny fraction of the millions of dollars they have raised into political expenditures.

The fact that Brat took off without the help of those organizations now makes it harder for them to claim his victory as their own.

Read more:

 Eric Cantor and the biggest upsets in political history

The seismic political consequences of Cantor's stunning loss

Did Democratic votes doom Cantor?

David Brat just beat Eric Cantor. Who is he? 

Matea Gold is a national political reporter for The Washington Post, covering money and influence.

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