WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Eric Cantor made history Tuesday night, but not in a good way, becoming the first sitting House majority leader to lose a primary race.
Not only did Cantor lose, but he got walloped by relatively unknown Dave Brat, a professor of economics at Randolph-Macon College, 56 to 44 percent in the Virginia GOP primary.
Cantor’s loss sent shockwaves throughout the political world as his own internal polls showed him with a commanding 34-point lead over Brat last month, according to The Washington Post. Cantor spent over $5 million on the primary campaign, compared to just $122,000 from Brat.
“Yikes. I didn’t see that coming,” a top Republican House member told CBS News.
Many questions now surround the 51-year-old Cantor. What’s his next step? Can he come back from this loss? Will he try to become a write-in candidate for the midterm election?
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that Cantor’s comeback will not happen overnight.
“He is young and experienced, so you never know” what’s next for Cantor, Sabato told CBSDC. “But this was such a repudiation, his comeback will take a while and lots of work.”
Sabato stated that Cantor should bow out of the midterm election and not try to become a write-in candidate.
“It wouldn’t work and I will be surprised if he does that. It could result in a Democratic plurality win,” Sabato explained.
Chris Akins, Republican consultant and founder of Akins Campaign Strategy, agrees.
“Sit it out,” Akins told CBSDC. “Unless polling shows you can win a general with overwhelming margins and your primary was a fluke, bow out gracefully. The only thing worse than being rejected once is being rejected twice, and a write-in candidacy is a short-cut to that.”
Many point to immigration reform being the culprit for Cantor’s loss. Brat accused Cantor of embracing “amnesty” and open borders, signed an anti-immigration pledge, and got assists in recent weeks from conservative figures popular with Tea Party voters such as radio host Laura Ingraham and columnist Ann Coulter, who labeled Cantor “amnesty-addled.”
Akins believes that immigration helped play a role in the downfall of Cantor, but said that the majority leader’s loss was “largely a referendum on how Cantor did by his district.”
“This was a local race focused on the perception – accurate or not – that Cantor, and especially his staff, were out of touch and possibly even arrogant when it came to matters of dealing with constituents and local issues,” Akins told CBSDC. “And immigration played into it, which generally doesn’t go over well with hardcore Republicans, which are the ones who turn out in the primaries. However, other establishment Republicans who support immigration reform have survived, which makes me think it’s largely a referendum on how Cantor did by his district.”
Sabato warned about “over-generalizing” Cantor’s loss.
“Cantor lost to anti-immigration forces but on the same night Sen. (Lindsey) Graham won easily” his South Carolina GOP primary against Tea Party candidates, Sabato stated.
Despite Brat winning the GOP primary, Akins believes that Cantor’s seat will not fall into the Democrats’ hands.
“Cantor won in 2012 with about 220,000 votes. (Mitt) Romney won with about 15 percent margin, (John) McCain with a 7 percent margin, and (George) Bush with a 23 percent margin, so it’s a safe seat.”
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, Rep. 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.
Cantor aides did not respond to The Associated Press when asked if Cantor would run as a write-in candidate in November.
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