If Eric Cantor needed evidence that his political career was in real trouble, all he had to do was look outside his living room window one night last week. At a stately country club about half a mile from his home in the affluent Richmond, Va., suburb of Glen Allen, so many people had come to see Laura Ingraham, the radio talk show host, stump for Cantor’s opponent in the Republican primary, David Brat, that the overflow parking nearly reached his driveway.
Ingraham was so taken aback at the size of the crowd — inside the clubhouse, hundreds of people crammed onto staircase landings, leaned over railings, and peered down at her from above — she wondered aloud what was really going on.
“We all looked at each other, saying, ‘He could totally win,’ ” Ingraham said in an interview. “I’ve had two moments in American politics in the last 15 years where I knew there was a big change afoot. One was when I left the Iowa caucuses in 2008. I walked out of there and said to a friend, ‘Barack Obama is going to win.’ And the other was when I left that rally last Tuesday.”
Few people did more than Ingraham to propel Brat, a 49-year-old economics professor who has never held elected office, from obscurity to national conservative hero.
And few stories better illustrate how his out-of-nowhere victory was due in large part to a unique and potent alignment of influential voices in conservative media.
Crucially, voices like Ingraham’s combined with shoe-leather, grass-roots campaign work by a highly organized local conservative movement to fill a void left by the absence of support from national Tea Party organizations and boldface Republican Party names.
Brat may have been turned away when he asked for financial support from well-funded conservative groups, and he was largely ignored by the national and local media, which considered Cantor, the number two Republican in the House, a shoo-in. But he was a known quantity to the loyal audiences of radio personalities like Ingraham and Mark Levin, a Reagan aide and a revered figure in the conservative movement, and Breitbart.com, the website founded by the provocateur Andrew Breitbart.
Together, Levin and Ingraham reach nearly 10 million people each week. And the Breitbart sites log 60 million page views each month. Those audiences are heavy with engaged, motivated voters who turn out in Republican primaries — the kind of voters who came out for Brat on Tuesday.
“Of the 70,000 voters yesterday in Virginia, I am sure 95 percent go to Drudge, Breitbart, Mark Levin, or Laura Ingraham every day, multiple times a day,” said Stephen K. Bannon, who wears many hats as a radio host, a filmmaker and the executive chairman of Breitbart.
Breitbart flew a reporter to Glen Allen last week to cover the Ingraham-Brat rally, providing some of the scant media attention the event received. Over the course of the campaign, Breitbart writers churned out dozens of articles about Brat.
In fortuitous coincidence for Brat, many of the most influential media players who helped tip the election in his favor have long-standing ties to Virginia and were steeped in knowledge of how the state’s political system works.