Call it the political upset of the year.
House majority leader Eric Cantor has been defeated by a little-known conservative challenger in his district’s Republican primary.
David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, won more votes than Cantor on Tuesday in Virginia’s 7th congressional district GOP primary. With almost all votes in, Brat led 56 percent to Cantor’s 44 percent.
“I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight. And it’s disappointing, sure,” Cantor said to supporters at his election night gathering. “But I believe in this country. I believe there’s opportunity around the next corner for all of us.”
The results have national implications: Cantor was seen as next in line to become speaker of the House. With Cantor not returning to Congress, it will spark a competitive battle among House Republicans to replace him in the GOP leadership.
“Eric Cantor and I have been through a lot together,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement late Tuesday. “He’s a good friend and a great leader, and someone I’ve come to rely upon on a daily basis as we make the tough choices that come with governing. My thoughts are with him and Diana and their kids tonight.”
During his under-funded campaign, Brat made immigration an issue, accusing Cantor of being for “amnesty.”
Radio host Laura Ingraham was among those who endorsed Brat’s campaign because of the immigration debate. Still, Brat’s campaign got little attention ahead of Tuesday’s election from most other media outlets.
A Daily Caller poll released Friday indicated Cantor was in trouble: it indicated that Cantor had support from 40 percent of 583 active primary voters to Brat’s 28 percent.
Cantor had a large money advantage heading into the election: Brat raised just $207,000 in comparison to Cantor’s $5.44 million.
Earlier this year, Brat wrote a Daily Caller op-ed titled “Why I want to replace Eric Cantor.”
“Congressman Cantor’s profile has been erratic even by Washington standards — flitting from eager establishmentarian coat-holder to self-glorified ‘Young Gun’ and back again,” Brat wrote. “His loyalties, both upward and downward, have shifted in his eager embrace of the Ruling Class. Washington’s only genuine article of faith: maintaining control regardless of how that control affects the life of the folks back home.”
According to his biography, Brat earned a masters in divinity from Princeton and a Ph.D. in economics from American University. He moved to Henrico, Va., in 1996 to teach economics and ethics at Randolph-Macon College.
Ed Gillespie, Virginia’s Republican Senate nominee, congratulated Brat after the race was called. ”Congrats to @DaveBratVA7th on tonight’s win,” Gillespie wrote on Twitter. “Looking forward to a winning ticket in November!”
Republican Party of Virginia chairman Pat Mullins thanked Cantor for his service. “During his legislative career he has been a tireless advocate for the Commonwealth and his constituents, and I hope he remains a strong and active member of party,” Mullins said.
Cantor has been in Congress since 2001. No sitting House majority leader has lost since 1899.
Brat will face Democrat Jack Trammell, another professor at Randolph-Macon College, in November.