Stunner! Eric Cantor loses Republican primary, ousted from Congress
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., lost his battle with Randolph-Macon economics professor Dave Brat for re-nomination to the ballot in the Seventh Congressional District in Virginia Tuesday, a political stunner that sent shock waves down both sides of the aisle.
Brat received 55.5 percent of the vote to Cantor’s 44.5 percent, defeating the seven-term incumbent in the Central Virginia district by 7,200 votes. The Tea Party-backed Brat rode Cantor early and often in the campaign on the immigration issue, repeatedly attacking Cantor on claims that the GOP leader backed an amnesty plan that Cantor countered he didn’t in fact support.
Brat, who spent just over $200,000 on his shoestring campaign, benefited from the vocal backing of conservative talk-show hosts Laura Ingraham and Glenn Beck, but even with the media firepower at his disposal, this was a race that no one outside Brat’s inner circle thought that the challenger could win.
Indeed, the focus on primary day was more on what Cantor’s margin would be, with an eye to the expectations in the future that Cantor would eventually ascend to the top of the House Republican leadership as Speaker of the House.
The defeat would seem to open the door for Democrats to challenge for the now-open seat in the Seventh, which still is considered a strong leaning Republican district. The Democratic candidate in the Seventh is another Randolph-Macon professor, Jack Trammell, who said in a statement late Tuesday that he is running “because I believe Virginians are hungry for a radical change from the dysfunctional and reckless politics being practiced by those in Congress – and the results of tonight’s primary election are the proof.”
“In the coming months, I look forward to a spirited campaign where can talk about the issues that matter to our community, and how we can get Congress re-focused on the priorities that truly matter to us,” Trammell said.
That seems to be the message that Republican voters sent to Cantor and Congress in general on Tuesday. Republican strategists are saying privately that the defeat is the result of Cantor spending too much time focused on Capitol Hill and party-building efforts at the expense of taking care of business back home.
Democratic strategists, meanwhile, are saying privately and publicly that the defeat is a sign of something else.
“If ever there was any doubt, tonight’s results prove that extremists have taken over the Virginia Republican Party,” said Mayor Dwight Jones, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “Eric Cantor tried to cater to hard-core conservatives, but he failed. Ed Gillespie wants to do this, too, and it won’t sit well with Virginians. I invite all mainstream Virginians to join Democrats in electing moderate leaders to Congress this November.”
Steve Israel, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which suddenly has another race on its hands to try to come up with funding for, also kicked Cantor in his shins on his way out of Congress.
“We all saw how far outside the mainstream this Republican Congress was with Eric Cantor at the helm, now we will see them run further to the far right with the Tea Party striking fear into the heart of every Republican on the ballot and cementing the dysfunction that has paralyzed this Congress and prevented them from taking any action to help middle class families,” Israel said.
“While House Republicans are racing to the right, Democrats are focused on a mainstream agenda that strengthens the middle class and makes this economy work for every American family. Eric Cantor is the personification of frustration with Washington and House Republicans should be terrified of the backlash from the voters who have been alienated by their race to the right,” Israel said.