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No. 2 House Republican in shock loss to Tea Party rival

Photo: AFP

US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia (pictured) lost to a Tea Party challenger on Tuesday in a stunning Republican primary upset that sent shockwaves through Congress and gave the ultra-conservative movement a landmark victory.


Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, was easily beaten by college economics professor David Brat, who had argued that Cantor had betrayed conservative principles on spending, debt and immigration.

Cantor had been seen by many as an eventual successor to House Speaker John Boehner, and his loss eventually will mean a shake-up in Republican leadership among House members already nervous about the depth of public anger toward Congress.

With nearly all precincts reporting, Brat had about 56 percent of the vote to Cantor’s 44 percent. A seven-term congressman, Cantor had spent more than $5 million to head off the challenge from Brat, a political newcomer who teaches at Randolph-Macon College. Brat spent about $122,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Cantor conceded the race with his wife, Diane, at his side. “Obviously we came up short,” he told glum supporters at a suburban Richmond hotel. “Serving you as the 7th District congressman and having the privilege of being the majority leader has been the highest honour of my life,” added Cantor, who is the most prominent Jewish Republican leader.

Brat’s supporters gathered Tuesday night in the lobby of a Richmond office building and cheered as the widely unexpected results began to arrive. Brat made the rounds among a crowd of more than 200 people, shaking hands and hugging supporters.

He had been a thorn in Cantor’s side throughout the campaign. Last month, a feisty crowd of Brat fans booed Cantor in front of his family at a local party convention.

Immigration key

Much of the campaign centred on immigration, where critics on both sides of the debate have recently taken aim at Cantor. Brat accused Cantor of being a top cheerleader for “amnesty” for immigrants who are living in the US illegally. Cantor responded forcefully by mailing out fliers boasting 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 Republican leaders have advocated a step-by-step approach, rather than the comprehensive bill backed by the Senate. They’ve made no move to bring legislation to a vote and appear increasingly unlikely to act this year.

The result is likely to halt any efforts to craft a House immigration reform bill, as nervous Republicans hustle to protect themselves against future challenges from the far right ahead of the November 4 midterm elections. It could also make Republicans even more hesitant to cooperate with President Barack Obama and Democrats for fear of being labelled a compromiser.

“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,” US Representative Steve Israel of New York, who heads the House Democratic campaign committee, told Reuters.

The victory emboldened conservative leaders who had seen a string of primary losses by Tea Party candidates this year to candidates backed by the Republican establishment, and it could encourage a conservative challenge to Boehner at the end of the year when the new leadership team is chosen.

“Eric Cantor’s loss tonight is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment. The grassroots is in revolt and marching,” said Brent Bozell, a veteran conservative activist and founder of the Media Research Center.

US Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also faced a Tea Party challenge on Tuesday but he beat a crowded field of six challengers who had accused him of not being conservative enough.


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