House Majority Leader Cantor defeated in stunning upset

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June 11, 2014

By Ballotpedia's Congressional team

Cantor's loss

An unprecedented loss by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) gives him the dubious distinction of being the first-ever sitting House Majority Leader to lose a primary bid. Cantor is second in line in leadership behind Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH). The stunning upset victory by Randolf-Macon College professor David Brat puts Republicans in the U.S. House into a leadership scramble.

Brat beat Cantor with a margin of victory of more than 10 percentage points in the 7th District. He will face Dr. Jack Trammell (D), who also works at Randolph-Macon, as well as James Carr (L) in the November general election.[1]

Ironically, Cantor, who is stepping down as House Majority Leader, may have fallen victim to an anti-incumbent movement that he helped fund in the last election cycle. In 2012, the Campaign for Primary Accountability was active in an Illinois GOP primary involving incumbent Don Manzullo and newcomer/challenger Adam Kinzinger. Cantor endorsed Kinzinger, and Cantor's PAC made a $25,000 contribution to the Campaign for Primary Accountability. Kinzinger won.

In 2012, Cantor received 37,369 votes in the Republican primary. As of Wednesday morning, Cantor received only 28,898 votes in 2014. The real story, however, is just how many voters participated in this year's primary. The vote totals in 2012 were 47,037 votes compared to yesterday's 65,008 voters. This is a turnout increase of 38.2 percent since 2012. Despite the tea party's high profile primaries in 2010 and 2012, Cantor is the highest-ranking Republican to lose a primary election since the movement's rise.

Virginia has an open primary process, in which registered voters do not have to be members of a party to vote in that party's primary. With the Democrats in the 7th District having already nominated their candidate at a committee meeting on June 8, they were free to vote in the Republican primary on Tuesday.[2] The 17,900 additional voters who cast a ballot in this year's Republican primary, relative to 2012, could have been partly influenced by the open primary system in Virginia. In the week prior to the primary, former Rep. Ben Jones (D-GA) circulated an open letter to all non-Republicans in the district to vote in the Republican primary for David Brat in hopes to retire Cantor. However, considering the definitive margin of victory in the race, it is improbable that Democrats are responsible for this result.[3]

Cantor had spent over $1 million dollars in the last month of the election, compared to Brat having barely raised $100,000 during the entire primary campaign, according to FEC filings.

Cantor, first elected in 2000, was facing heat from Virginia Republicans. In May 2014, Cantor was booed at the 7th District's Republican convention. This was his third contested primary race in his eight congressional elections. In 2000, Cantor won his first primary election by a margin of victory of only .6 percentage points. In 2012, he easily sailed to the general election with a 58.9 percentage point margin of victory.[2]

As Speaker of the House John Boehner's second-in-command, Cantor is responsible for being a top spokesman for the party and setting the House agenda. After this defeat, Cantor may have less pull in the House as he finishes his term with the 113th Congress. Many also believed that Cantor would be the next choice for Speaker.[2][4]

U.S. House, Virginia District 7 Republican Primary, 2014
Candidate Vote % Votes
Green check mark transparent.pngDavid Brat 55.5% 36,110
Eric Cantor Incumbent 44.5% 28,898
Total Votes 65,008
Source: Results via Associated Press


Democratic challenger

The Democrats found themselves in a bind a day before the party primary; nobody had filed for the ballot resulting in the Monday nomination of Jack Trammell, a professor at Randolph-Macon College, and co-workers with Brat.

The 7th District Democrats had previously fought off rumors that Mike Dickinson, who refers to himself as an "aggressive progressive liberal democrat," would be on the primary ballot. The party leaders of the district tried to distance themselves from Dickinson who was, as of this week, still stating that he would be on the general election ballot. Dickinson, an active Twitter user, tweeted: "I did not file for their convention. Waste of time. I didn't forget to file w them, I chose not too. I'm running just not w them."

In Virginia, each district's party has some control on the nomination process and decide whether to go to a ballot or use a party convention process. According to Virginia's election code:

The duly constituted authorities of the political party, as stated in its rules and bylaws, have the right determine the method by which the party nominates for an office within a congressional, General Assembly district, county, city, or town in which an office is to be filled.[5][2][6]

The general election ballot in Virginia's 7th Congressional District will look different this November. With a race against two little-known candidates that will kick into full-gear in the coming weeks, the 7th District is sure to be the focus of much media attention.

See also

References