Big, big, big news tonight out of the Old Domin­ion: John Boehn­er’s sec­ond in com­mand in the House Repub­li­can cau­cus, Major­i­ty Leader Eric Can­tor, appears to have unex­pect­ed­ly lost his seat in Con­gress.

Elec­tion results out of Vir­ginia show that Repub­li­can vot­ers in today’s low turnout pri­ma­ry are heav­i­ly favor­ing Can­tor’s Tea Par­ty chal­lenger David Brat, who crit­i­cized Can­tor’s record and promised to take a hard line against com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform if elect­ed. As of 5:20 PM Pacif­ic Time, with two hun­dred and twen­ty-two hun­dred and forty-three precincts report­ing, the results were as follows:

Eric I. Can­tor: 44.62% (26,906 votes)
David A. Brat: 55.38% (33,401 votes)

To call Brat an under­dog would be an understatement.

He had only around $40,000 cash on hand at the end of March, where­as Can­tor has been cam­paign­ing with a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar war chest.

But Brat nev­er­the­less man­aged to cap­i­tal­ize on dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the Repub­li­can estab­lish­ment to eke out the most sur­pris­ing of victories.

As David Nir points out, it was­n’t like Can­tor had ignored Brat’s can­di­da­cy:

Can­tor ran mul­ti­ple attack ads against Brat, but Brat suc­cess­ful­ly made his out­right hos­til­i­ty to immi­gra­tion reform the cen­ter­piece of the cam­paign, accus­ing Can­tor of sup­port­ing “amnesty” and putting him on the defensive.

What makes this result even more stun­ning is that a pair of late polls showed Can­tor with con­sid­er­able leads: An inde­pen­dent sur­vey from Vox Pop­uli had him up 52–39, while Can­tor’s own inter­nal from McLaugh­lin & Asso­ciates gave him an even wider 62–28 advan­tage. But as we not­ed, McLaugh­lin is one of the worst poll­sters in the busi­ness, and boy, did they cement that rep­u­ta­tion tonight.

“Obvi­ous­ly, we came up short,” a dis­ap­point­ed Can­tor said to his sup­port­ers at his elec­tion night gath­er­ing, which appeared to have turned into a very somber affair. “I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight, and I know it’s dis­ap­point­ing, sure.”

He did not con­cede or acknowl­edge his oppo­nent in his remarks.

The Com­mon­wealth of Vir­ginia has what’s called a sore los­er law, pro­hibit­ing Can­tor from run­ning as an inde­pen­dent to hold his seat. Can­tor thus has no way of appear­ing on the Novem­ber bal­lot, as he sought the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion in the 7th Dis­trict, but did­n’t get it. His only option, if he want­ed to keep his seat, would be to run as a write-in can­di­date, like Lisa Murkows­ki did in Alas­ka in 2010.

Murkows­ki did win her write-in cam­paign, but she had a lot of help from Alaska’s many Native Amer­i­can tribes, which ral­lied behind her and helped her over­come Joe Miller. Were Can­tor to run as a write-in can­di­date, he might just end up siphon­ing enough votes away from Brat to allow Brat’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nent to win.

I’ve already heard this elec­tion being called an “earth­quake”; but I think that’s a bad anal­o­gy. Earth­quakes are a nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non. Elec­tions are not. Elec­tions are a human inven­tion and are decid­ed by humans.

Look at the num­ber of votes above. More peo­ple live in the City of Kirk­land, Wash­ing­ton, than have vot­ed so far in his pri­ma­ry. This was a pri­ma­ry elec­tion decid­ed by a rel­a­tive­ly small num­ber of people.

Will it have con­se­quences? Of course it will. It will like­ly increase the strength and clout of the zeal­ous, uncom­pro­mis­ing Tea Par­ty fac­tion with­in the House Repub­li­can cau­cus… the same fac­tion that shut down our fed­er­al gov­ern­ment last fall.

Of course, it’s worth remem­ber­ing that Can­tor was on bet­ter terms with that fac­tion than John Boehn­er was, more often tak­ing their side.

“The Tea Par­ty is so angry it does­n’t even like its own pup­pet,” said Ari Mel­ber, react­ing to the news of Can­tor’s defeat on MSNBC.

Can­tor’s loss will also prob­a­bly destroy what­ev­er will­ing­ness or enthu­si­asm there was for com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform with­in the caucus.

Brat’s gen­er­al elec­tion oppo­nent, Demo­c­rat Jack Tram­mell, declared him­self ready for a spir­it­ed, live­ly cam­paign in a state­ment issued through the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of the Com­mon­wealth of Virginia.

“I am hon­ored and hum­bled to accept the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion in Virginia’s 7th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict. I am run­ning because I believe Vir­gini­ans are hun­gry for a rad­i­cal change from the dys­func­tion­al and reck­less pol­i­tics being prac­ticed by those in Con­gress – and the results of tonight’s pri­ma­ry elec­tion are the proof.

“In the com­ing months, I look for­ward to a spir­it­ed cam­paign where can talk about the issues that mat­ter to our com­mu­ni­ty, and how we can get Con­gress re-focused on the pri­or­i­ties that tru­ly mat­ter to us,” Tram­mell concluded.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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4 replies on “WOW: Eric Cantor unexpectedly losing to Tea Party challenger; looks like he’s finished”

  1. How Dems plot­ted Can­tor’s demise.

    For­mer con­gress­man Ben Jones (D‑Ga.), bet­ter known as “Coot­er” from Dukes of Haz­zard, has a plan to knock Eric Can­tor out of the House. He’s urg­ing his fel­low Democ­rats to cross over and vote for a tea par­ty-backed can­di­date in Vir­gini­a’s pri­ma­ry election. 

    Coot­er, who ran against Can­tor in 2002, has penned an open let­ter call­ing upon Democ­rats in his for­mer Vir­ginia dis­trict to vote in the open pri­ma­ry next Tues­day for tea par­ty oppo­nent Dave Brat in order to defeat U.S. House Major­i­ty Leader Cantor. 

    Cross­ing par­ty lines to vote in an open pri­ma­ry has a long tra­di­tion in the solid­ly one-par­ty South, Coot­er argues in his let­ter. “y vot­ing for David Brat in the Sev­enth Dis­trict Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry, we Democ­rats, inde­pen­dents, and Lib­er­tar­i­ans can make a big dif­fer­ence in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics,” he argues. “It is your right to cast that vote. It is an ‘open’ pri­ma­ry and it doesn’t pre­clude any­one from vot­ing any­way they wish in Novem­ber. It may be the only way to empow­er those who want to make a state­ment about the dys­func­tion­al Con­gress and ‘pol­i­tics as usual.’ ”

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