WASHINGTON – In a stunning tea-party smackdown against the establishment GOP Tuesday evening, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., lost his bid for the Republican Party nomination against tea-party backed candidate David Brat by more than 11 percentage points.
Cantor outspent his challenger by a margin of 25 to 1. The House majority leader dropped $5 million on his campaign, or $166 per vote, against Brat’s $200,000, or $5.70 per vote.
Republican incumbents Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Cantor had been favored candidates in their states, and both faced strong tea-party opposition.
The primaries Tuesday included elections in South Carolina, Virginia, Maine, North Dakota and Nevada. Arkansas had just a few runoffs, one between Republicans running for attorney general and two others in the state Legislature.
Brat won the race with 55.6 percent to Cantor’s 44.4 percent.
Fueled by opposition to Cantor’s stance on immigration, tea-party favorite David Brat had gained national attention as a threat to the incumbent’s hold on the largely Republican 7th Congressional district.
The House majority leader won his 2012 primary with 79 percent of the vote against a political novice with no money.
Brat accused Cantor of supporting amnesty for illegal aliens, and he criticized Cantor for his support of legal status for illegal immigrant children now pouring across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Once you announced that kids are welcome, they’re going to head in,” Brat told Breitbart News on Sunday.
Last week, in a Richmond Times Dispatch op-ed, Brat called Cantor the “No. 1 cheerleader in Congress for amnesty.”
Cantor, a seven-term incumbent, attempted to portray Brat as a “liberal college professor.” Brat had the backing of author Ann Coulter and radio host Laura Ingraham.
“Eric Cantor’s loss tonight is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment,” L. Brent Bozell, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica, told the Washington Post. “The grassroots is in revolt and marching.”
In a statement, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Cantor’s loss, “settles the debate once and for all – the tea party has taken control of the Republican Party. Period. …
“When Eric Cantor, who time and again has blocked common-sense legislation to grow the middle class, can’t earn the Republican nomination, it’s clear the GOP has redefined ‘far right.’ Democrats on the other hand have nominated a mainstream candidate who will proudly represent this district and I look forward to his victory in November,” she said
Author and columnist Ann Coulter told Fox News, “The Democrat response is to keep saying, ‘Oh, this is a tea-party victory. They are not saying ‘this is a defeat for amnesty’ because they know what I’m saying is true. Americans do not want amnesty. In fact, they’d like a moratorium on immigration generally. Overwhelmingly the polls have shown that for 20 years but the Chamber of Commerce, the Sheldon Adelsons of the world, are buying their way into the heart of John Boehner and Eric Cantor.”
She added, “I hope it will shut down any more happy talk about amnesty this year.”
Talk-radio host Laura Ingraham said, “This is a massive wake-up call to the Republican Party, if they choose to wake up at this point. If they don’t, if John Boehner, Paul Ryan and the rest of the crew in the GOP establishment move forward after this race with this idea of ‘quote’ immigration reform, which is a pathway to some type of amnesty, eventually, they will put a wedge down the middle of the Republican Party that will in my mind prevent the Republicans from winning in 2016, exactly the opposite of what they’re contending.
“This is an amazing moment for the people. It is not to be discounted. … It’s an absolute repudiation of establishment politics.”
There was no immediate comment from House Speaker John Boehner. But a senior Republican leadership aide described the mood as “chaos for the leadership ranks.”
“We’re absolutely stunned,” the aide said. “Honestly, we really can’t believe it.”
According to the Post, a GOP strategist who requested anonymity warned against portraying Cantor’s loss as a tea-party victory.
“‘This is what happens when you don’t tend the weeds in your backyard,” the strategist said. He went on to question Cantor’s decision to go up on television – a strategy that may have raised Brat’s profile and let more voters know about the race,” the Post reported. “‘Six weeks ago, Brat was an unknown. The question will be: Did the campaign overreact?’”
Meanwhile, seven Democrats in Virginia fought for the chance to replace retiring Rep. Jim Moran. Former Democratic Virginia Lt. Gov. Don Beyer won the party nomination and is expected to win the seat, which is considered secure in the Democratic Party’s clutches. Beyer was endorsed by David Axelrod and Oprah Winfrey.
Graham, who many argue has been a proverbial thorn in the tea-party’s side, cruised to victory in the Palmetto State with 58.4 percent of the vote. Graham had hoped to garner more than 50 percent of the vote in a seven-way race to avoid a runoff. His Republican challengers were Columbia pastor Det Bowers, State Sen. Lee Bright, businessman Richard Cash, attorney Bill Connor, attorney Benjamin Dunn and businesswoman Nancy Mace.
Clemson University’s Palmetto Poll last week showed Graham with a 40-point lead over Bright, his closest challenger. Graham had a $7 million war chest at his disposal.
Four candidates had been hoping to fill Maine’s open 2nd Congressional District seat.
Establishment Republican Kevin Raye took on tea-party favorite Bruce Poliquin for the Republican nomination – and lost. Raye had been considered the frontrunner.
President Obama carried the district with 53 percent of the vote in 2012.
The 1st Congressional District, Senate and governor primary races are all uncontested.
In Nevada, first-term Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval defeated four GOP primary challengers handily, with nearly 90 percent of the vote. He’s favored to make it all the way to re-election in November, regardless of who emerges from the eight-way Democratic primary.
In the race for lieutenant governor, freshman state Sen. Mark Hutchison (the establishment candidate) and former state Sen. Sue Lowden (the tea-party candidate) had been embroiled in what some consider the nastiest race in Nevada’s primary election. Hutchinson, the winner of Tuesday’s contest, will face Lucy Flores, a two-term Democratic assemblywoman from Las Vegas who has the backing of Sen. Harry Reid.
In Nevada’s House, a conservative state assemblyman and a tea-party organizer squared off in the GOP primary in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District to likely challenge Democrat incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford in November. Niger Innis, a tea-party organizer who acknowledges not voting very often in the past decade, lost to Assemblyman Cresent Hardy of Mesquite in the GOP primary.
Mayoral races drew people to the polls in North Dakota’s largest city where Commissioner Brad Wimmer lost his challenge against two-term Mayor Dennis Walaker.
In oil boomtown Williston, longtime Mayor Ward Koeser is stepping down and three people joined the contest to succeed him.