In a stunning defeat, number two House Republican Eric Cantor was ousted Tuesday by a conservative primary challenger, in a
body blow to the Republican establishment.
Majority Leader Cantor, a powerful party insider who was widely seen as a future speaker of the House, lost his Richmond, Virginia seat to Tea Party-backed insurgent David Brat, who was deemed such a longshot he barely received media airtime and was outspent by Cantor more than 25 to one.
But the veteran Cantor was widely seen as focusing on national Republican positioning and ignored his own re-election primary race until it was too late.
His defeat marked a repudiation of establishment politics and plunged his own party's leadership into a state of flux in the midst of the campaign season for November's mid-term congressional elections.
Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, conceded Tuesday evening, saying the loss was "disappointing."
"But I believe in this country. I believe there's opportunity around the next corner for all of us," he told supporters in a short concession speech.
With all 243 precincts reporting, Brat, an economics professor at a Virginia college, defeated Cantor 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent. It now throws the once-safe House seat up in the air for the November election.
"This is an earthquake," Minnesota ex-congressman Vin Weber, a Cantor friend, told The Washington Post. "No one thought he'd lose."
Larry Sabato, who heads the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, called Cantor's loss "one of the most stunning upsets in modern American political history," according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
"This is the base rebelling against the GOP leadership in Washington," he added.
If 2010 and 2012 were the years of Tea Party revolt that saw several of their candidates swept into Congress, 2014 was shaping up to be the year the establishment struck back.
Until Tuesday, the Republican leadership had largely been able to swat away the challenges by the anti-tax, small-government Tea Party in the congressional primaries of recent weeks. But the Brat victory brings new energy to the movement, a development that Democrats jumped on as soon as the race was called.
"We all saw how far outside the mainstream this Republican Congress was with Eric Cantor at the helm," said congressman Steve Israel, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"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."
- Immigration reform stand hurt Cantor -
Brat's victory dramatically reduces the likelihood that Congress passes immigration reform this year. The Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan immigration bill one year ago but many House Republicans said its pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants was a form of "amnesty."
Cantor had backed legislation that would have allowed the children of illegal immigrants to stay and become US nationals, but Brat attacked the position.
Brat's victory "clearly means congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform is dead," Republican strategist Brad Marston told AFP.
Meanwhile one of the Republican sponsors of the Senate immigration bill, Senator Lindsey Graham, easily won his South Carolina primary Tuesday over several GOP challengers.