Tea Party Defeats Last Jewish Republican in Congress

Virginia 7th District
28,898 44.45% Rep. Eric I. Cantor
36,110 55.55% Prof. David A. Brat
65,008 Total


Cantor calls Anti-Semitism the “darker side” of the Republican caucus, April 2012.


Cantor calls Jewish tendency to vote Republican the bane of his existence and reveals the Republican version of tikkun olam (CBS 60 Minutes, January 2001).

When Eric Cantor (VA) was elected to Congress in 2000, he and Benjamin Gilman (NY) were the only two Jewish Congressmen caucusing as Republicans in the House of Representatives. Gilman retired in 2003 after his district was dispersed, leaving Cantor as the only Jewish Republican in the House.

At the time, two Jewish Republicans served in the Senate: Norm Coleman (MN) and Arlen Specter (PA). However, Coleman was unseated in a close election by Jewish comedian Al Franken (MN) in 2008, and Specter switched parties in 2009 and then was defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary by Admiral Joe Sestak.

Cantor has risen to great prominence. He was elected House Majority Leader in 2011, and was widely seen as the likely successor to John Boehner as Speaker of the House.

According to the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, Cantor’s district is very safe, with a 10% Republican advantage compared to national averages:

2012 Election Results

  • President: Romney (R) 57%, Obama (D) 42%
  • Senator: Allen (R) 53%, Kaine (D) 47%
  • Represenative: Cantor (R) 58%, Powel (D) 41%

Accordingly, as the House’s second-ranked Republican, Cantor would have had no problem winning the general election yet again this year. His only danger was being defeated in the Republican primary. Even that seemed extremely unlikely: Cantor is ranked in the most conservative fifth of Congress by the DW-Nominate Scores based on his voting record, so he seemed like a good fit for his district.

Cantor spent $5,700,000 in the primary against his opponent David Brat, a Tea Party activist and obscure economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, with a mere $231,000 at his campaign’s disposal. In the final public polls before the election, Cantor led by 13%. In fact, Cantor’s internal polling projected he would win in a 34% landslide. Accordingly, he spent election day raising money for other Republicans rather than campaigning for himself.

Nevertheless, with the light turnout for the primary, Cantor was perhaps not sufficiently extreme: He was upset by Brat, 55.55% to 45.45%.

More after the jump.
The incumbent Cantor only kept control of four counties in the district: Three in the North are in the larger Washington, D.C. metropolitan area: Culpeper Country (51%), Orange County (61%) and Spotsylvania (54%), and the other is the state capital of Richmond (54%).

Brat succeeded with a grassroots campaign focused narrowly on the issue of immigration, characterizing Cantor as a supporter of an Obama plan to give amnesty to illegal immigrants. Wall Street Journal blogger Reid J. Epstein wrote that “Brat appeared more interested in campaigning to make a point than in winning”:

The Washington Post reported last month that he no-showed meetings with key conservative activists in the capital. His excuse: He had final exams to grade.

Mr. Brat will face Democrat Jack Trammell, who is a professor and the director of disability support services at Randolph-Macon College, the same school where Mr. Brat teaches.

Mr. Cantor can’t run as a third-party candidate. Virginia law forbids candidates who lose primary elections from appearing on the general election ballot. It is not immediately clear if he will mount a write-in campaign , as did Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) after losing a 2010 GOP Senate primary.

There are clues to Mr. Brat’s ideology in his academic CV. His current book project is titled “Ethics as Leading Economic Indicator? What went Wrong? Notes on the Judeo-Christian Tradition and Human Reason.”

His other published works include the titles “God and Advanced Mammon – Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?” and “An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand.”

In the wake of Cantor’s defeat, he has resigned as House Majority Leader, leaving great uncertainty about who will be the next Speaker of the House.

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director, Matt Brooks, said this was “one of those incredible, evil twists of fate that just changed the potential course of history. There are other leaders who will emerge, but Eric was unique and it will take time and there’s nobody quite like Eric in the House to immediately fill those shoes. I was certainly hoping that Eric was going to be our first Jewish speaker.

Eric’s efforts have been invaluable in passing important legislation on matters of concern to his constituents and the nation. He rose quickly to a top position in the House, having earned the trust and respect of his colleagues.

Eric has been an important pro-Israel voice in the House and a leader on security issues, including Iran sanctions. We deeply appreciate his efforts to keep our country secure and to support our allies around the world.

On the other side of the partisan aisle, according to Ellana Cahn of the National Jewish Democratic Council:

The National Jewish Democratic Council notes that the defeat of Congressman Eric Cantor at the hands of a Tea Party challenger has left the Republican Party with no Jewish voice in Congress.  Cong. Cantor was bested by a challenger who campaigned against sensible immigration policies, the kind of policies that enabled Mr. Cantor’s family to become United States citizens.  The American Jewish community has long understood a hospitable approach to immigration to be one of its strongest values.

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