Virginia's Eric Cantor has risen fast-and the sky's the limit.
Oct 1, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 03 • By FRED BARNES
As a freshman at George Washington University in 1981, Cantor worked as an intern for House Republican Tom Bliley of Virginia and was Bliley's driver in the 1982 campaign. After GW, Cantor got a law degree at William & Mary and a master's in real estate management from Columbia University. He met his wife, Diana, in New York, where she was working at Goldman Sachs.
She was a Democrat from Miami Beach and had lived in Greenwich Village for 10 years. Moving to Richmond was "a culture shock" for her, Cantor says. But she became a Republican and was appointed by Governor George Allen in 1996 to run the Virginia College Savings Plan.
Cantor spent eight years as a delegate in the Virginia legislature. Given his business background, he "gravitated toward the economic issues." In 2000, he ran to succeed Bliley in the House. With the endorsement of Bliley and the influential Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cantor was strongly favored to win the Republican nomination and the general election.
But late in the campaign, mysterious phone calls were made to Republican households noting that his chief opponent, Stephen Martin, was "the only Christian" in the race and that Cantor attended a synagogue. The Cantor campaign couldn't figure out the origin of the calls. Later it was discovered they were made by Faith and Family Alliance, a front group funded by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and run by two Virginia political consultants. Cantor won by only 263 votes, far less than expected. It was his only close election.
Cantor is a small-government conservative. "I don't think we came to Washington to fix everybody's problems," he says. He's a ferocious foe of tax hikes and has spearheaded opposition to raising the tax on so-called "carried interest" of hedge funds. He believes Republicans stumbled badly in recent years. "Our fiscal brand--we lost that," he says. "Sixty percent of America is with us in believing in a Main Street, common-sense conservatism." Yet Republicans often fail to connect with voters.
"We do a very poor job of selling our ideas," Cantor told me. "We've got to get better at connecting our solutions to the problems people face." Worse, many of their ideas are stale. "There's a tendency for those inside the Beltway to look at the established sources of ideas," chiefly the Washington think tanks, he argues. "I want to talk to people in the real world."
Cantor got one piece of advice from Bliley, his predecessor and the former chairman of the Commerce Committee. "Don't get on Commerce," Bliley said. "If you do, they'll hang that golden leaf on your head and you'll never get away from it." His point was, coming from Richmond, Cantor would be dubbed the tobacco industry's congressman and this would limit his advancement in the House.
He took that advice. Now, he's difficult to typecast as anything but a reform-minded conservative Republican with a lot of friends in the House and a bright future ahead of him.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.