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Date published: 11/2/2012
At Henrico County's Republican headquarters, Rep. Eric Cantor was rallying the troops.
"Our job is to exceed all records get the turnout revved up here," Cantor recently told a crowd of volunteers, mostly college students there to knock on doors and make phone calls.
"You're going to help save our country," Cantor told them. Pepping up the volunteers is something a lot of candidates do this time of year. But most don't have a national NBC-TV crew waiting to interview them.
Cantor, as House Majority Leader, is one of the most high-profile Republicans in Congress. Democrats revile him as the man who has helped make the Republican House a thorn in President Barack Obama's side. Republicans love him for the same reason.
In years past, Democrats haven't mounted much of a challenge to him at home in Virginia's heavily Republican 7th District. For the past three elections, Democratic challengers have gotten 34 to 37 percent of the vote. Cantor's lowest winning margin came two years ago, with a solid 59 percent.
Armed with a well-stocked campaign fund and a national bully pulpit, Cantor's re-election campaigns haven't been difficult. It's been years since Cantor has debated an opponent or needed to run negative TV ads.
That changed this year.
Cantor is being challenged by Wayne Powell, a Richmond attorney and retired Army colonel. Whether Powell has a better chance at ousting Cantor than his predecessors remains to be seen, but he's certainly more vocal. Powell hired campaign strategist Dave "Mudcat" Saunders--who worked with Sen. Mark Warner and on John Edwards' presidential campaign--to shape his strategy.
And that strategy is, in a nutshell, to go for the jugular.
On the stump and on national radio and TV shows, Powell and Saunders have described Cantor as a power-hungry corporate sellout. Powell's campaign signs include "For Sale" signs with Cantor's office number on them and media ads portray him as more interested in what happens in Washington than in the 7th District.
Powell's supporters call him passionate. Cantor's campaign calls him "relentlessly negative," and says Powell's combative style isn't right for the district.
In return, Cantor's campaign has circulated a Virginia bar complaint against Powell, who is an attorney, over Powell's conduct in a 2009 case in which he represented six employees of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
The 7th was redrawn last year as part of the once-a-decade post-census redistricting. It still has Culpeper, Orange and Louisa, and now all of Spotsylvania County.
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.