In a stunning upset propelled by tea party activists, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., was defeated in Tuesday’s congressional primary, with insurgent David Brat delivering an unpredicted and devastating loss to the second most powerful Republican in the House, who had been widely touted as a future speaker.
I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight, Cantor said to a stunned crowd of supporters in a Richmond hotel ballroom. It’s disappointing, sure. But I believe in this country. I believe there’s opportunity around the next corner for all of us.
Brat’s victory gives the GOP a volatile outlook for the rest of the campaign season, with the party establishment struggling late Tuesday to grapple with the news and some conservatives relishing a surprising win.
This is an earthquake, said former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, a friend of Cantor’s. No one thought he’d lose.
But Brat, tapping into conservative anger over Cantor’s role in supporting efforts to reform federal immigration laws, found a way to combat Cantor’s big financial edge.
Eric Cantor’s loss tonight is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment, said Brent Bozell, chairman of For America, a conservative group that targeted Cantor throughout the primary. The grassroots is in revolt and marching.
But longtime Virginia Republican strategist Chris LaCivita said Cantor’s political work on the national level simply took him away from his home district.
He spent days, weeks and months traveling the country, raising money to add to the Republican majority. Unfortunately, it had a price.
Brat, an economics professor, was not considered a major threat. Last month, he failed to show up to Washington, D.C., meetings with powerful conservative agitators, citing upcoming finals. He had only $40,000 in the bank at the end of March, according to filings. Cantor had $2 million.
But there were early signs of trouble. Brat exposed discontent with Cantor in the solidly Republican district in suburban Richmond by attacking the lawmaker on his votes to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown, as well as his support for some immigration reforms.
The majority leader had championed a Republican version of the Dream Act, which would enable some undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children to qualify for in-state college tuition rates.