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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

As Eric Cantor found out, sometimes the mighty do lose

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) during a

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) during a news conference on Capitol Hill on May 20, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Mark Wilson

Any award for the most contrived claims of the campaign season could go to Republican House candidates who try to paint their GOP primary opponents as tools of powerful Democrats.

Americans have heard them in congressional contests from Long Island's East End to central Virginia, where House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost a primary Tuesday to an insurgent economics professor.

In Suffolk's 1st Congressional District, GOP candidate George Demos denounced Cantor in the wake of his defeat as an "Obamacare" supporter. Demos noted the 13-year House member was due tomorrow at a Quogue fundraiser for his primary rival, state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

Zeldin, of course, has been making much of the fact that Demos' wife's family has fundraising ties to big Democrats in California. "If you like Nancy Pelosi," says one of his ads, "you'll love George Demos."

Really? Can't everyone, fan or foe, reasonably assume that any Republican who unseats veteran Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) would likely adhere to House Speaker John Boehner's agenda, including perpetual efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act?

In the 4th Congressional District, the Nassau GOP's candidate Bruce Blakeman attempts, in a new ad, to convince the party faithful that his opponent, Frank Scaturro, is "no conservative." Insurgent Scaturro, who won a Conservative nomination by write-in two years ago, doesn't use the same playbook, but does denounce Blakeman as a repeat election loser and the ad as an explicit lie.

Somebody must think that creatively linking Republicans to Pelosi and President Barack Obama works, or we wouldn't hear it so much. Then again, well-paid strategists and pollsters also thought Cantor would win.

Democrats engage here and there in similar attacks. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan) has attacked his primary rival from the borough, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, for accepting campaign funds from lobbyists for charter schools, which are unpopular among pro-union Democrats.

But whether it was his personality or long-term incumbency or issues or something else that did him in, Cantor's defeat stands out, because nobody in his high House post succumbed before to a primary foe. Along the way, Cantor unconvincingly branded opponent David Brat a "liberal."

Closer to home, Brooklyn College Professor Jerome Krase sees "numerous parallels" to a borough campaign he was involved in 36 years ago -- Democratic Assembly Speaker Stanley Steingut's astonishing primary loss to a relative unknown, Murray Weinstein.

The idea that Cantor "lost touch" with district sentiments sounds "very much like what you heard the pundits say about Stanley after the primary," said Krase, whose field is sociology. Krase recalls pollsters and experts also deemed Steingut "invincible." He was even more powerful in Albany than Cantor is in Washington.

Which isn't to say that life in Brooklyn's 41st Assembly District in 1978 resembled central Virginia's 7th Congressional District as it is today. It is merely a fact of life that the presumably mighty sometimes fall to the supposedly marginal.

Maybe that's why Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, running for re-election, denounces right-wing "extremists" while casting concerned glances leftward at those in his party who think he's too "Republican."

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