In the most shocking congressional upset in recent history, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost the GOP primary in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District to tea party–backed challenger David Brat. Just last week, Cantor’s internal polling showed he had a 34-point lead over Brat, and heading into the election the biggest question appeared to be how big Cantor’s margin of victory would be. However, just after 8 p.m., the Associated Press called the race for Brat, who had 56 percent of the vote to Cantor’s 44 percent, with 87 percent of precincts reporting. Cantor, who was considered a top contender to succeed House Speaker John Boehner someday, conceded a short time later. He opened his speech to stunned supporters assembled in a Richmond hotel ballroom by saying, “Obviously we came up short.”
Cantor’s defeat is a huge jolt for the Republican Party, and will shake up both the midterms and the battle to succeed Boehner as speaker. It upends the narrative that establishment Republicans had re-exerted control over the party, which emerged after many tea party candidates lost in early primaries. “Eric Cantor’s loss tonight is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment,” L. Brent Bozell, chairman of anti-Cantor group ForAmerica, told the Washington Post. “The grassroots is in revolt and marching.”
Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, raised only $200,000 in this cycle compared to Cantor’s $2 million, but he won the support of conservative talk radio figures like Laura Ingraham. Brat accused the six-term incumbent of being insufficiently conservative and attacked him for voting to end the government shutdown and supporting federal immigration reform. Cantor took the threat seriously, spending a considerable amount in recent weeks on fliers and TV ads in which he denied that he supports “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.
After Cantor left what he had hoped would be a victory party, immigration activists stormed the ballroom, chanting, “What do we want? Immigration reform! When do we want it? Now!” They were too late, as Cantor’s defeat essentially ensures that no Republican will risk backing immigration reform in the near future.
Brat will face Democrat Jack Trammell, a fellow Randolph-Macon College professor, in November. It’s unclear if Cantor will attempt to run as a write-in candidate.
This post has been updated throughout.