House Majority Leader Eric Cantor loses primary

Highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress in history is defeated by a tea party challenger

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

US House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (CC BY/Gage Skidmore/Flickr/File)
US House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (CC BY/Gage Skidmore/Flickr/File)

WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives lost its only Jewish Republican legislator when Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) was defeated in a primary challenge late Tuesday night. In what many saw as a surprise upset, Cantor, a veteran politician who is the second-highest-ranking Republican in the House, was defeated by a local professor seen as a Tea Party favorite.

David Brat bested Cantor in a bitterly fought primary in which Cantor outspent his opponent by an almost six to one ratio. One local website reported that Brat’s total expenditures of $200,000 were close to the almost $190,000 that Cantor’s campaign spent on steak restaurants alone.

In what is seen as a test for the outcomes of midterm Congressional elections in November, Cantor’s defeat came at the hands of an opponent who cut far to the right of Cantor on key issues, criticizing him for being too soft on immigration.

After Cantor’s defeat, the Republican Jewish Committee’s Executive Director Matt Brooks said that the group was “disappointed that our friend Eric Cantor lost his primary race tonight, but we are proud of his many, many accomplishments in Congress.”

Cantor, said Brooks, “has been a hardworking representative of his district and a trusted leader in the House.”

The RJC leader noted that Cantor has been “an important pro-Israel voice in the House and a leader on security issues, including Iran sanctions,” and that the RJC was “proud to have worked with Eric Cantor for the last 14 years.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a key Republican legislator, sent out a tweet shortly after the results became public. “My good friend Eric Cantor has been by my side as we worked on many issues, such as supporting our ally Israel,” Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. “Proud to serve with him.”

Like Ros-Lehtinen, House Speaker John Boehner bemoaned Cantor’s upcoming departure from the House – an abrupt turn in the political fate of a man who was seen by many to be campaigning to inherit Boehner’s own position.

Had Cantor succeeded, he would have become the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the history of the United States.

After declining requests for interviews by several prominent news outlets, Boehner released a brief statement in which he said that “Eric Cantor and I have been through a lot together. 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.”

On the other side of the aisle, Cantor’s early defeat was seen as cause for celebration. According to The New York Times, a small gathering at Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-IL) Georgetown home became a celebration Tuesday evening, as the results were reported.

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) offered a mixed perspective, noting that the defeat “has left the Republican Party with no Jewish voice in Congress.”

The NJDC’s leader, Rabbi Jack Moline, called on Cantor to now take up the cause of immigration reform, one of the areas in which Brat cut well to Cantor’s right in the primaries, at least in rhetoric.

Moline could not, however, resist a jab, inviting “those who feel unrepresented by the Republican Party to join us in supporting the 33 Jewish Senators and Members of the House who proudly serve as in Congress.”

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