Cantor defeat sends shockwaves across politico universe

Dems: Tea party takes down one of their own

6/11/2014, 10:25 a.m.
In a shocking political defeat guaranteed to upend Republican Party politics, Cantor, who has represented the 7th District of Virginia ...
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) delivers a concession speech in Richmond with wife Diana at his side.


The comments and statements keep rolling following Tuesday's primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA) Chair Mayor Dwight Jones said there was no doubt the June 10 election results prove that "extremists have taken over the Virginia Republican Party."

"Eric Cantor tried to cater to hard-core conservatives, but he failed," said Jones, who is also mayor of Richmond. "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."

In a shocking political defeat guaranteed to upend Republican Party politics, Cantor, who has represented the 7th District of Virginia in Congress for 14 years, lost his primary election Tuesday to a tea party newcomer who hammered him for backing aspects of immigration reform.

Establishment Washington reeled from the moment the polls closed as Cantor, the ambitious leader with his sights on becoming the next House speaker, trailed Dave Brat, a Randolph Macon college professor who rustled for tea party support at a time when GOP leaders elsewhere have succeeded in halting the outsiders' ascent.

In the end, Brat claimed an easy victory over the seven-term incumbent in the Richmond-area district. The new nominee appeared as shocked as Cantor at the outcome.

"Can you believe it?" Brat said to his daughter, Sophia, according to published reports. "Unbelievable."

Cantor spoke with his wife, Diana, at his side at what was meant to be a victory party.

"Serving as the 7th District congressman and having the privilege to be the majority leader has been one of the highest honors of my life," he said.

The outcome was certain to not only ignite a leadership battle among the Republican majority in the House, but also to send a shudder though rank-and-file lawmakers who may become less willing to stray from tea party orthodoxy, particularly in the continuing debate over immigration reform.

"This stunning news could be the first shot in an all-out war between the establishment and tea party over leadership control," said GOP political strategist Ron Bonjean, a former top aide to Republican leaders.

The defeat of a congressional leader, especially one as prolific a fundraiser as Cantor, is almost unheard of. The loss — the first for a House majority leader — was the biggest electoral shock to the lower chamber since 1994, when Speaker Thomas Foley of Washington, a Democrat, was swept out of office in the GOP tidal wave that ushered in Republican control. More recently, Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota was ousted as Senate minority leader in 2004.

"This is the political version of the San Francisco earthquake," said Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan analysis of elections. "It came out of nowhere."

But in retrospect, the signs were evident. Cantor's team had become increasingly concerned about the primary challenge from Brat, in part because the district had recently been redrawn and leaned further to the right.