In a shocking upset, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost the Republican primary in Virginia to tea party challenger and virtual unknown Dave Brat on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
Cantor, the second highest-ranking member of the House was defeated by Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, in the 7th District GOP primary by a commanding 55% to 44% margin with 100% of the precincts reporting their results.
“Look, obviously we came up short,” said Rep. Cantor in his concession speech.
Cantor was viewed as next in line to succeed as House Speaker if John Boehner were to retire next year, and was expected to easily defeat his conservative challenger. Eric Cantor’s internal polling had him up 34 points in his primary a few days before the primary.
According to OpenSecrets.org, Cantor outraised Brat by more than 26 to 1. In fact, according to FEC campaign finance data, the soon-to-be former majority leader spent more money at steak houses than Brat spent on his entire campaign.
Brat, who had the funding and backing of the tea party throughout the primary contest, repeatedly hit Cantor on immigration reform. The seven-term congressman took the attacks seriously, saying that he blocked “amnesty” for illegal immigrants in television ads. But Brat’s criticisms gained traction after reports of nearly a thousand of migrant children stranded at the Arizona border made national headlines.
Focusing on immigration throughout the congressional primary, Brat, a novice in politics, promised supporters that he would become Cantor’s “term limit.” Brat painted Cantor as a Washington insider who did not lean far enough right.
While he had less funding than Cantor, Brat’s victory marks a big win for the tea party movement. The 7th district leans Republican and Brat is favored to win over Jack Trammell, the Democratic nominee for the seat.
“Serving as the 7th district congressman and then having the privilege of being majority leader has been one of the highest honors in my life,” Cantor said.
He added, “I look forward to continuing to fight with all of you for the things that we believe in, for the conservative cause because those solutions of ours are the answer to the problems that so many people are facing here today.”
House Speaker John Boehner, long seen as a rival of Cantor, offered kind words about his colleague. “Eric Cantor and I have been through a lot together. He’s 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,” Boehner said.
Reaction from the other side of the aisle to Cantor’s loss was swift. DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement, “Tonight’s result in Virginia settles the debate once and for all – the Tea Party has taken control of the Republican Party. Period.”
Democratic party leader Nancy Pelosi called Cantor “the face of House Republicans’ extreme policies, debilitating dysfunction and manufactured crises” and said, “As far as the midterms elections are concerned, it’s a whole new ballgame.”
In victory, Brat quoted scripture: “I went to my family and this little note is hanging on my door every day and I read this every day. It’s Luke 18:27. Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’”
This is the first time a House majority leader has lost a primary race since the position was created in 1899.