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This might not quite be the stat heard round the world, but politicos could not resist passing along one factoid that seemed to capture the improbability of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s, R-Va., stunning defeat in his primary race against Dave Brat.
"Cantor's campaign spent more at steak houses than Brat spent on his entire campaign," said Chuck Todd, host of MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown.
Talk about a claim made for headlines and Twitter. "Eric Cantor: Burned at the steakhouse," said Rolling Stone magazine. "High steaks politics" and "Where’s the beef" popped up in the twittersphere.
There’s no disputing the accuracy of the comparison, which first showed up in the New York Times. According to campaign finance data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, Cantor spent $168,000 on fundraising events at three Virginia restaurants -- Bobby Van’s Grill, Bobby Van's Steakhouse, and Blt Steak.
Brat spent a little less than $123,000 across the board for his campaign, according to the most recent campaign finance reports, which cover spending up until May 21, 2014.
Overall, Cantor outspent Brat more than 40 to 1, according to available records, and still lost by 10 percentage points.
There’s good reason for the collective astonishment -- this is a rare event.
"I can't think of any (case) in which the incumbent's spending advantage was so huge and he still lost," said Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California San Diego.
Another political scientist, John Sides at George Washington University, has a database with about 9,100 House general election contests. Sides tracks which candidate won and which spent the most money. Being outspent was a clear disadvantage.
"In only 10 percent of races did the candidate who got outspent actually win," Sides said.
Now, this concerns general elections, not primary contests like the one Cantor lost, but Sides said the pattern wouldn’t change much.
Money is a very tangible perk that comes with incumbency. The Center for Responsive Politics calculated the odds of a challenger beating an incumbent going back to 1998. In the best year, 2006, challengers who spent $1 million or less, like Brat, had a 1 percent chance of winning. In every other election, their odds were much worse.
Todd said that Cantor spent more at steakhouses than Brat did in his entire campaign. The latest campaign finance reports back that up. Cantor spent $168,000 on steakhouse dinners to Brat’s $123,000 spent in the overall campaign.
We rate the claim True.
New York Times, Cantor’s Loss a Bad Omen for Moderates, June10, 2014
Business Insider, The Amount Of Money Eric Cantor's Campaign Spent On Steakhouses Says It All, June 11, 2014
Twitter, Cantor steakhouse tweets
Center for Responsive Politics, Expenditures - Cantor Campaign Committee, 2013-2014
Center for Responsive Politics, Virginia District 07 Race, 2013-2014
Center for Responsive Politics, The Dollars and Cents of Incumbency, 2012
Center for Responsive Politics, Winning vs. Spending, 2012
Center for Responsive Politics, Candidate to Candidate Giving, 2012
Center for Responsive Politics, Don’t Blame Steakhouses for Cantor’s Fall, June 11, 2014
House Committee on Ethics, Proper Use of Campaign Funds and Resources
Library of Economics and Liberty, Campaign Finance, 2008
Email interview, John Sides, associate professor of political science, George Washington University, June 11, 2014
Email interview, Gary Jacobson, professor of political science, University of California San Diego, June 11, 2014
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