House majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his Republican primary election Tuesday night. Instead of once again running for Virginia’s 7th congressional district this fall, Cantor’s challenger, David Brat, will be on the ballot. Cantor is now the first House Majority Leader to lose his party’s primary.
The loss came as a surprise to almost everyone. Pollsters and political observers had assumed that Cantor could easily defeat his Tea Party-backed opponent. An internal poll from the Cantor campaign had showed the representative with a 34-point lead as of Friday and other polls also showed Cantor with a comfortable lead. Election returns show Cantor lost the election by more than 7,000 votes, with nearly 56% of the vote going to Brat.
“You know, I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight and it’s disappointing, sure,” said Cantor during his concession speech. “But I believe in this country. I believe there’s opportunity around the next corner for all of us.”
As House Majority Leader, Cantor was a senior figure in House leadership and second in command to House Speaker John Boehner. Boehner issued a statement Tuesday night saying, “(Cantor is) a good friend and a great leader, and someone I’ve come to rely upon on a daily basis as we make the tough choices that come with governing. My thoughts are with him and Diana and their kids tonight.”
Cantor’s challenger, David Brat, is a professor of economics at Randolph-Macon College. His candidacy was backed by Tea Party groups and figures related to the Tea Party movement, including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. During the primary campaign Brat had run heavily on immigration, painting Cantor as a supporter of amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Cantor’s defeat provides a new twist in this election year’s conventional wisdom that establishment Republicans are taking back their party from the Tea Party. Cantor and others in House leadership have been struggling to accommodate hard-right Tea Party Republicans in the House in recent years, culminating in last year’s government shut down.
Brat will face off against Democratic challenger Jack Trammel in this fall’s midterm elections. Trammel is a colleague of Brat’s, a sociology professor at Randolph-Macon College.
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