House Majority Leader Cantor defeated in primary

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — In an upset for the ages, Majority
Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-most powerful man in the
House, was dethroned Tuesday by a little-known, tea party-backed
Republican primary challenger carried to victory on a wave of public
anger over calls for looser immigration laws.
"This is a miracle
from God that just happened," exulted David Brat, an economics
professor, as his victory became clear in the congressional district
around Virginia’s capital city.
Speaking to downcast supporters, Cantor conceded, "Obviously we came up short" in a bid for
renomination to an eighth term.
The
victory was by far the biggest of the 2014 campaign season for tea
party forces, although last week they forced veteran Mississippi Sen.
Thad Cochran into a June 24 runoff, and hope state Sen. Chris McDaniel
can prevail then.
Cantor’s defeat was the first primary setback
for a senior leader in Congress in recent years. Former House Speaker
Thomas Foley of Washington and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of
South Dakota both lost their seats at the polls in the past two decades,
but they fell to Republicans, not to challengers from within their own
parties.
The outcome may well mark the end of Cantor’s political
career, and aides did not respond Tuesday night when asked if the
majority leader, 51, would run a write-in campaign in the fall.
But
its impact on the fate of immigration legislation in the current
Congress seemed clearer still. Conservatives will now be emboldened in
their opposition to legislation to create a path to citizenship for
immigrants living in the country illegally, and party leaders who are
more sympathetic to such legislation will likely be less willing to try.
The
majority leader had been tugged by two warring forces in his party and
in recent weeks sought to emphasize his opposition to far-reaching
immigration legislation as Brat’s challenge gained force. Last month, a
feisty crowd of Brat supporters booed Cantor in front of his family at a
local party convention.
Still, neither he nor other House leaders
betrayed any serious concern that his tenure was in danger, and his
allies leaked a private poll in recent days that claimed he had a
comfortable lead over Brat.
In the end, despite help from
establishment groups, Cantor’s repudiation was complete in an area that
first sent him to Congress in 2000.
With votes counted in 99 percent of the precincts, 64,418 votes were cast, roughly a 37 percent increase
over two years ago.
Despite that, Cantor polled fewer votes than he did in 2012 — 28,631 this time, compared with 37,369
then.
House
Speaker John Boehner issued a statement hailing Cantor as "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."
It
was unclear if Cantor intended to remain in his leadership post for the
duration of the year, and who might replace him in the new Congress if
Republicans hold their majority.
Democrats seized on the upset as evidence that their fight for House control this fall is far from over.

"Eric
Cantor has long been the face of House Republicans’ extreme policies,
debilitating dysfunction and manufactured crises.
Tonight, is a major
victory for the tea party as they yet again pull the Republican Party
further to the radical right," said the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi
of California. "As far as the midterm elections are concerned, it’s a
whole new ballgame."
Cantor was appointed to his first leadership
position in 2002, when he was named chief deputy whip of the party and
became the highest-ranking Jewish Republican in Washington. It was a
recognition of his fundraising skills as well as his conservative voting
record at a time Republican leaders were eager to tap into Jewish
donors for their campaigns.
Since Boehner became speaker in 2009,
Cantor has been seen as both a likely eventual successor and at times a
potential rival.
Jay S. Poole, a Cantor volunteer, said Brat
tapped into widespread frustration among voters about the gridlock in
Washington and issues such as immigration. "I can’t tell you how amazing
this is to me," Poole said.
Much of the campaign centered on
immigration, where critics on both sides of the debate have recently
taken aim at Cantor. Brat accused him of being a top cheerleader for
"amnesty" for immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally. Cantor
responded forcefully by boasting in mailers of blocking Senate plans "to
give illegal aliens amnesty."
It was a change in tone for Cantor,
who has repeatedly voiced support for giving citizenship to certain
immigrants brought illegally to the country as children. Cantor and
House GOP leaders have advocated a step-by-step approach, rather than
the comprehensive bill backed by the Senate — but were persistently
vague on the details.
Brat teaches at Randolph-Macon College, a
small liberal arts school north of Richmond. He raised just over
$200,000 for his campaign, while Cantor spent more than $1 million in
April and May alone to try to beat back his challenge.
Washington-based
groups also spent heavily in the race. The American Chemistry Council,
whose members include many blue chip companies, spent more than $300,000
on TV ads promoting Cantor in the group’s only independent expenditure
so far this election year. Political arms of the American College of
Radiology, the National Rifle Association and the National Association
of Realtors also spent money on ads to promote Cantor.
Brat offset
the cash disadvantage with endorsements from conservative activists
like radio host Laura Ingraham and with help from local tea party
activists angry at Cantor.
In the fall, Brat will face Democrat Jack Trammel, also a professor at Randolph-Macon, in the solidly
Republican district.
___
Associated
Press writers David Pace and Erica Werner in Washington and Larry
O’Dell, Steve Szkotak and Michael Felberbaum in Richmond contributed to
this report. Espo reported from Washington.