Virginia reel: Immigration, cronyism oust Cantor


DOWN AND OUT: GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was ousted in his party’s primary by tea party candidate Dave Brat.

By Kenric Ward |

Fed up with the arrogance, the cronyism and a perceived sellout on illegal immigration, voters in Virginia’s conservative 7th Congressional District did Tuesday what no one has done since 1899: Throw out a sitting House majority leader.

The mainstream media and their political pundits didn’t see it coming. The party and corporate bag men who backed Rep. Eric Cantor with millions of dollars were powerless to stop the wave of revulsion.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial endorsement didn’t help, as Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield counties ringing the capital city went heavily for tea partyer Dave Brat.

Tuesday dawned with the conservative Washington Times declaring on Page One that Cantor was “the heavy favorite.”

By the end of the day, Brat — an economics professor and first-time candidate — was the big winner, trouncing the seven-term congressman, 55-44.

A heavy turnout of 65,000 votes fairly shouted that voters had grown weary, if not disgusted, with Cantor’s steady statist drift. A key player in the Wall Street bailout, the House’s No. 2 Republican paid the ultimate electoral price.

Populism — a political strain both feared and ridiculed by Washington’s political class — is spreading like wildfire in central Virginia.

Watchdog was the first to report on this uprising, citing Brat’s unstinting attacks on “crony capitalism.”

Whether Tuesday’s revolt against the status-quo spreads to other districts remains to be seen. But voters in the 7th demonstrated that when given a viable alternative, they’re ready to throw out “experienced” incumbents.

And why not? The economy is wretched. Jobless rates are vastly understated. The income gap between the top 1 percent and the rest of the country is widening to pre-Depression levels. And Congress dithers.

In such times, third-party movements arise and the major parties splinter.

A Republican establishment head was lopped off Tuesday. And business-as-usual Democrats are rightfully worried about a similar fate. They have been announcing retirements ahead of the fall elections.

While refusing to debate Brat, Cantor tried to paint his challenger as a “liberal college professor” — a gambit that clearly failed, said Steve Farnsworth, political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.

“That allegation was one of the biggest mistakes Cantor made. One of the first pictures you see on Brat’s website is Ronald Reagan, and then Cantor with Barack Obama.”

Geoffrey Skelley, a political scientist at the University of Virginia School of Politics, termed Brat’s victory “a 10.0 on the Richter scale.”

Skelley called Brat’s surge “strongly indicative of displeasure of members of the more conservative part of the party.”

Farnsworth dismissed the notion that Democrats gamed the GOP primary by voting for Brat.

“There’s no evidence of that. It was a tea party win, pure and simple.” Karl Rove, take note.

Kathryn Watson contributed to this story.

Kenric Ward is a national reporter for and chief of the Virginia Bureau. Contact him at or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward