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David Brat speaks to supporters Tuesday night.
Associated Press/Photo by P. Kevin Morley/Richmond Times-Dispatch
David Brat speaks to supporters Tuesday night.

David Brat’s ‘miracle’ victory in Virginia

Election | The college professor credits God for his unexpected defeat of Eric Cantor, one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington

WASHINGTON—In an “unbelievable miracle” he attributed to God, college economics professor David Brat defeated incumbent representative and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s Republican primary Tuesday.

Cantor’s shocking loss in the state’s 7th Congressional District serves as a stern rebuke to establishment politicians and provides the most visible sign yet of grassroots voters’ frustrations with the status quo in Washington. Cantor becomes the first lawmaker to lose a primary while holding the House majority leader position, providing a jolt to the recent conventional narrative that the GOP establishment had gained the upper hand during this primary season.

Brat won even though Cantor raised considerably more money. Brat took in a little more than $200,000 while Cantor, who has occupied the House majority leader position since 2011, raised nearly $5.5 million. But Brat said, “The good news is dollars don’t vote. People do.” His victory illustrated how the district’s voters, who Brat characterized as fed up with Washington, could not be swayed by who spent the most dollars.

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“I just paid attention to people,” Brat said in a Fox News interview on Tuesday night. “If you go door to door knocking, the American people know the country is heading in the wrong direction.”

Many Washington insiders—from lawmakers and their staffs to journalists and lobbyists—thought Cantor would cruise to victory. But it was Brat, benefiting from the persistent support of conservative figures such as Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter, who could boast about a win that wasn’t close. The professor, who teaches Third World economics at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., won with a solid 55.5 percent of the vote to Cantor’s 44.5 percent.

Brat did not credit himself with the 11-point win. He opened his victory speech Tuesday night with Luke 18:27: “Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’” His crowd of supporters cheered wildly. Later in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Brat continued to praise God for his victory.

“It’s a miracle,” said Brat, who earned a master’s degree in divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. “I’m a believer, so I’m humbled that God gave us this win. I was blessed. … God acts through people. And God acted through the people.”

Suffering the biggest election upset since then House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., lost to Republican George Nethercutt in the 1994 general election, Cantor, 51, will finish his seventh congressional term in December. He told his stunned supporters Tuesday night that serving in Congress was one of his life’s highest honors.

“I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight,” Cantor said. “It’s disappointing for sure, but I believe in this country. I believe there’s opportunity around the next corner for all of us.”

The abrupt end of Cantor’s time in the House will be analyzed for weeks. But some attribute it, at least in part, to his stance on immigration. Brat characterized Cantor as too soft on immigration, calling Cantor’s support for giving citizenship to some children of illegal immigrants a form of amnesty. Cantor’s exit will surely change the dynamics of the immigration debate and other controversial legislation on Capitol Hill, as other veteran lawmakers will look over their shoulders at potential grassroots challengers before casting votes.

When Brat, 49, announced his candidacy in January, he pledged to be “Cantor’s term limit.” With a doctorate in economics, Brat supports free market principles and limited government. He claims too many mainline GOP representatives have expanded government and forgotten their conservative ideals. Brat said federal government leaders have run amuck with their preference for top-down centralizing of most functions. 

“I don’t think the federal government should be involved in making my life work,” he said.

Brat now moves on to the Nov. 4 general election, where he will run against another Randolph-Macon professor: Democrat Jack Trammell. The district is strongly Republican.

Despite this primary season being considered a key measuring stick for the clout of the tea party, many of the national tea party groups stayed out of this Virginia primary. Most probably doubted Brat’s chances. Outside groups spent between $5,000 and $10,000 against Cantor, with the bulk of the dollars coming from a new political action committee called We Deserve Better.

But those same national tea party groups were quick to jump on the Brat bandwagon after Tuesday’s results. The Madison Project’s Daniel Horowitz said, “Just a few short weeks ago, the establishment was working the media over trying to shut the coffin on conservatives and the tea party.” And the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund Chairman Jenny Beth Martin released a statement claiming Brat won because he “harnessed the outrage at Washington” and focused it on one leader.

With additional reporting from Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette.

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