UPDATE: In a surprise upset, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost the Republican primary in Virginia's 7th District to David Brat, an underfunded challenger who lagged in the polls ahead of today's election.
Throughout the campaign, Brat cast Cantor as a Washington insider who wasn't conservative enough. Brat spent just $200,000 on his campaign, according to the latest filings. Although he didn't fly the tea party flag, conservatives supported him, even booing Cantor at a recent state party convention.
OUR EARLIER REPORT (9:30 a.m.): David Brat, a Randolph-Macon College economics professor with little political experience or funding, is making incumbent Rep. Eric Cantor work for his congressional seat in Virginia’s 7th District Republican primary.
Though Cantor leads in the polls as Richmond-area voters prepare to vote today, this race touches off yet another battle between ensconced conservatives and tea party newcomers, just as it did in Mississippi and Kentucky. According to a Daily Caller poll, 52 percent of the Virginia 7th District plan to vote for Cantor while 39 percent want Brat take over the seat. Among likely Cantor voters, only 40 percent firmly support him.
Whoever wins the primary likely will win the election on Nov. 4—the 7th District tends to vote Republican and has had GOP representatives since 1971.
Cantor, who has served as House Majority leader since 2011, learned this campaign would not be as easy as previous elections during the district’s Republican convention in May. The audience booed Cantor for saying Brat’s earlier speech was full of inaccuracies.
Both Brat and Cantor have exchanged heated accusations, each saying the other is too liberal—Brat as a college professor, Cantor as a big-government congressman.
Brat, who opposes granting amnesty to immigrants, has made Cantor’s immigration policy one of his main campaign points. Brat railed against the incumbent’s immigration policy in a press conference June 5 and said he could better represent constituents: “Hardworking Virginians cannot continue to go unrepresented in Washington, D.C.”
Cantor said in a June 6 interview that he wants to work with President Barack Obama on border security bills and a bill granting full citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants—a policy he says is “biblical” because it doesn’t blame children for the illegal actions of their parents. But Brat claims this law borders on amnesty.
In the same June 6 interview, Cantor said any accusations that he is not conservative enough are pointless. “In this particular race, I can tell you, the choice is very clear,” he said. “I’ve had a strong conservative record.”
Nicole Riley, the Virginia state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), said her organization supports Cantor because he fought Obamacare and has a positive small business track record. “He’s really proven himself,” she said.
Riley doesn’t know how a freshman representative like Brat could be as effective in Congress as Cantor.
Even though Brat has not branded himself with the tea party label, tea party followers support him because he campaigns for limited government involvement in economics and for the government to restrict itself to constitutional boundaries.
Brat’s tea party support has helped his campaign gain traction. Though he only spent a little more than $120,000 to Cantor’s $5 million, Brat has made the most of free campaigning, including public endorsements from author Ann Coulter and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham. When Ingraham held a rally with Brat on June 3, 600 people attended.
Richard Viguerie, the chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, a conservative website attacking big-government Republicans, endorses Brat for his highly conservative views. Viguerie said Brat may have a hard time winning against an incumbent, but the fact that it’s such a close race should make Cantor take notice of his more conservative constituents.
“The most important thing is to make a good showing,” Viguerie said. “The fact that we could so successfully challenge Cantor is a huge victory for limited government.”