In a shocking political defeat guaranteed to upend Republican Party politics, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia lost his primary election Tuesday to a tea party newcomer who hammered the No. 2 leader on immigration reform. It was the first downfall of a congressional leader in a generation.
Establishment Washington reeled from the moment the polls closed as Cantor, the ambitious leader with his sights on becoming the next House speaker, trailed Dave Brat, a local college professor who rustled for tea party support at a time when GOP leaders elsewhere have succeeded in halting the ascent of hard-right candidates.
In the end, Brat claimed an easy victory over the seven-term incumbent in the Richmond-area district.
"Serving as the 7th District congressman and having the privilege to be the majority leader has been one of the highest honors of my life," said Cantor, his wife, Diana, at his side.
The outcome was certain to not only ignite a leadership battle among the Republican majority in the House, but also to send a shudder though rank-and-file lawmakers who may become less willing to stray from tea party orthodoxy, particularly on the still looming debate over immigration reform.
"This stunning news could be the first shot in an all-out war between the establishment and tea party over leadership control," said GOP political strategist Ron Bonjean, a former top aide to Republican leadership.
The defeat of a congressional leader, especially one who is as prolific a fundraiser as Cantor, is almost unheard of. The majority leader's loss was the biggest electoral shock to the House since 1994, when Speaker Thomas Foley of Washington, a Democrat, was swept out of office in the GOP tidal wave that ushered in Republican control. More recently, Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota was ousted as Senate minority leader in 2004.