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Eric Cantors Polling Firm Takes Heat (Updated)
Eric Cantor’s polling firm is taking heat for showing him ahead by a massive margin two weeks before he lost the primary. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:25 p.m. | After House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning primary loss in Virginia Tuesday night, national GOP operatives are barreling through the five stages of grief: Denial, anger, and now bargaining — looking for answers on his out-of-the-blue political death.

Their fingers are, in part, pointed directly at McLaughlin & Associates, the Republican polling firm behind the wildly incorrect survey on Cantor’s race. In his poll conducted at the end of May, Cantor had a 34-point lead over college professor David Brat.

Two weeks later, Cantor faced a 12-point drubbing.

Republican operatives were hesitant to criticize McLaughlin & Associates on the record. But privately, they pointed to the firm’s well-documented track record.

One Republican campaign aide said they have cautioned candidates to take a second look if they want to hire McLaughlin & Associates for their bids — and will continue to warn them following Cantor’s loss.

“[I will tell them], ‘You should take a real look at what happened last night and reassess your team going forward,’ ” said the aide, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.

John McLaughlin, president and partner at McLaughlin & Associates, did not immediately return a request for comment. But he has told reporters that Democrats meddled in the primary, which was partially to blame for the numbers being off in Virginia’s 7th District.

This wasn’t the firm’s first high-profile mistake in Virginia. In October 2012, a McLaughlin & Associates survey showed Mitt Romney leading President Barack Obama, 51 percent to 44 percent. Romney went on to lose, 51 percent to 47 percent.

Also that year, the firm had surveys that showed former Sen. George Allen, R-Va., leading now-Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., 47 percent to 44 percent, in October. Kaine went on to defeat Allen, 53 percent to 47 percent.

In 2012, Roll Call’s Shop Talk column declared McLaughlin & Associates one of the consultant “losers” of the cycle. But it wasn’t the only GOP polling firm to take a hit that year, and part of the issue appeared to be an incorrect judgment of what the electorate would look like.

McLaughlin & Associates has done polling for a number of candidates and members of Congress. It took in more than $8 million in business for Republicans in the 2012 and 2014 cycles — including the Republican National Committee and Cantor’s Young Guns group, according to data compiled by CQ Roll Call’s Political Moneyline.

Several current members and some candidates have hired McLaughlin.

Most notably, GOP Rep. Jack Kingston has hired the firm for his Senate bid in Georgia this cycle. Kingston’s campaign released an internal poll conducted by McLaughlin earlier this week, and the congressman’s aides said they are confident in the numbers and have no plans to switch up their team.

“You know, I think that every race is different, and you can’t really apply what happens in one race to another,” said Chris Crawford, a spokesman for Kingston’s campaign. “We are confident in our team.”

But Kingston’s runoff opponent, businessman David Perdue, sent a Wednesday missive pointing to Kingston’s internal pre-primary polling from McLaughlin & Associates as reason to doubt Kingston’s lead.

Other Republican operatives say that signing new clients will be a challenge for the firm — whether campaigns are warned about their track record or not.

“[You] don’t need to blacklist them,” one senior Republican strategist said. “They’ve backlisted themselves.”

But least one client said on Wednesday that he has no plans to fire McLaughlin in the immediate future.

“I’ve got 100 percent confidence in the team I have in place,” Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., said at the Capitol Wednesday.

Jolly is running unopposed for the GOP nomination in Florida’s 13th District. Even though it is a competitive district, he does not have a significant challenge in the fall.

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