On Tuesday, Eric Cantor, the Republican congressman from Virginia, became the first sitting House majority leader to lose a primary for reelection. The victor, political newcomer and college professor David Brat, won nearly 56 percent of the vote to win the GOP nomination for the Republican-heavy district around Richmond's northern suburbs and stretching toward Washington.
Brat won despite little name recognition at the beginning of the race and having far less money than his opponent—$40,000 at the end of March, compared to the $2 million in Cantor's coffers. Virginia has no party registration, so it's possible some Democrats crossed over to vote in the primary, but the district leans heavily toward the GOP. It hasn't had a Democrat represent it since 1971, and it's not expected that the Democratic nominee Jack Trammell will do much better against Brat.
Cantor's defeat comes at the end of tough-fought primary campaign, where the challenger Brat made immigration reform a central issue. Brat focused particularly on Cantor's express support for proposals like comprehensive immigration reform and some form of the DREAM Act to allow some children of illegal immigrants who had completed high school with permanent residency.
One mailer sent out by the Brat campaign (viewable here) showed the majority leader standing next to Facebook founder and notable immigration reform advocate Mark Zuckerburg. "There are 20 million Americans who can't find a full-time job. But Eric Cantor wants to give corporations another 20 million foreign workers to hire instead," the text of the mailer reads. Brat also released a TV ad in the final week of the race, saying he would "fight to defund and repeal Obamacare...to stop the reckless spending in Washington...[and] to stop amnesty for illegal immigrants."
Cantor tried to parry the attack by moving to the right on immigration, sending out mailers of his own that claimed he opposed the "Obama-Reid plan to give illegal immigrants amnesty." He also spent more than $1 million in the last two months of the race.
"Brat stood up for U.S. citizens trying to earn a living, while Cantor lobbied for more guest workers," said one GOP Capitol Hill aide.
In his concession speech in Richmond, Cantor cited his support for federally-funded medical research, in particular the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act. "Because what it says as conservatives that we don't believe you ought to spend taxpayer dollars on political conventions, that in fact it's probably better to help cure disease," he said. "Because not only do you save lives and help people, you can ultimately help solve the federal deficit problem by bringing down health care costs."
What happens next in the House leadership now that the number-two ranking Republican won't be in Congress next year? Talk is that Kevin McCarthy, the House majority whip from California and the number three behind Cantor and House speaker John Boehner, is the obvious choice to succeed Cantor. One GOP aide says it's likely that if McCarthy runs for majority leader, Illinois Republican and chief deputy whip Peter Roskam will run for whip.
Update: Speaking with Fox News's Sean Hannity after his win Tuesday, David Brat rejected the idea that his contest against Cantor was one pitting the Tea Party against the Republican party.
"Although I had tremendous Tea Party support and just wonderful people in the Tea Party and grassroots helping me out and they are clearly responsible for the win," Brat said. "But I ran on the Republican principles."