The Man Who Wants to Beat Eric Cantor

Charlotte, North Carolina—So far, a large part of my time at the Democratic National Convention has involved talking to delegates other people on the street. Sometimes, they’re the usual attendees—party chairs, local officeholders, and well-connected activists. Every so often, however, you run into an actual candidate.

This afternoon, I spoke to Wayne Powell, a Virginia Democrat who is running to unseat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the state’s 7th District, which extends down to Richmond. Powell, a small business owner and retired Army intelligence officer, thinks Cantor is too ambitious to effectively represent the district. “People are tired of not being listened to, not being attended to—he doesn’t return calls. Unless they’re his supporters or his contributors, he doesn’t have time for them,” says Powell. By contrast, he explains, “I’m a real representative—I don’t want to be speaker or leader of the House.”

The 7th District is one of the more conservative areas of Virginia—hence, Eric Cantor—so I asked Powell what he would do to distinguish himself from other Democrats, and even President Obama. On Obamacare, he was unwilling to distance himself, and presented his support as the rational decision of a businessman. “I’ve hired two people in the last year who were able to stay on to their parent’s insurance, and so the firm didn’t have to cover it,” he said.

If there’s an issue where Powell stands in opposition, it’s the war in Afghanistan. He doesn’t think that we should have entered the country, and he thinks we should leave as quickly as possible. “I think we should bring our troops home. That’s my view, as a military guy.”

As an older, white, military man, Powell has the right kind of profile for a district like Cantor’s. But the simple fact is that the 7th is highly conservative and Cantor is a skilled politician. He’s represented the area for more than a decade and there’s no reason to think that will change soon. That said, you can still hope that this becomes a competitive race—it’s always good for safe politicians to feel a little electoral heat.