Saturday 25 October 2014

House leader defeated in US primary

Published 11/06/2014 | 02:02

Eric Cantor delivers a concession speech in Richmond, Virginia, after losing in the Republican primary to tea party candidate Dave Brat (AP)

US House of Representatives majority leader Eric Cantor has been defeated by a little-known economics professor in Virginia's Republican primary, a stunning upset and major victory for the ultra-conservative tea party movement.

Mr Cantor is the second-most powerful member of the US House of Representatives and was seen by some as a possible successor to House Speaker John Boehner.

His loss to Dave Brat, a political novice with little money, marks a huge victory for the limited government, anti-tax tea party movement, which supported Mr Cantor just a few years ago.

Mr Brat had been a thorn in Mr Cantor's side in the campaign, casting the congressman as a Washington insider who is not conservative enough, particularly on issues such as immigration reform.

Last month, a feisty crowd of Brat supporters booed Mr Cantor in front of his family at a local party convention.

Mr Brat's message apparently scored well with voters in Virginia's seventh District, which is in the Richmond area.

"There needs to be a change," said Joe Mullins, who voted in Chesterfield County.

The engineering company employee said he has friends who tried to arrange town hall meetings with Mr Cantor, who declined their invitations.

Much of the campaign centred on immigration, where critics on both sides have recently taken aim at Mr Cantor.

Dave Brat has accused the House majority leader of being a top cheerleader for "amnesty" for immigrants in the US illegally. Mr Cantor has responded forcefully by boasting of blocking Senate plans "to give illegal aliens amnesty".

It was a change in tone for Mr Cantor, who has repeatedly voiced support for giving citizenship to certain immigrants brought illegally to the country as children.

Mr Cantor and House Republican leaders have advocated a step-by-step approach rather than the comprehensive bill backed by the Senate. They have made no move to bring legislation to a vote and appear increasingly unlikely to act this year.

Disagreements between the Republican establishment and tea party factions have flared in Virginia since tea party favourite Ken Cuccinelli lost last year's gubernatorial race.

Cantor supporters have met with stiff resistance in trying to wrest control of the state party away from tea party enthusiasts, including in Mr Cantor's home district.

Mr Brat teaches at Randolph-Macon College, a small liberal arts school north of Richmond. He raised just over 200,000 dollars (£119,000) for his campaign, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

Washington DC-based groups also spent heavily in the race.

The American Chemistry Council, whose members include many blue chip companies, spent more than 300,000 dollars (£178,000) on TV ads promoting Cantor. It is the group's only independent expenditure so far this election year.

Political arms of the American College of Radiology, the National Rifle Association and the National Association of Realtors also spent money on ads to promote Mr Cantor.

Mr Brat offset the cash disadvantage with endorsements from conservative activists like radio host Laura Ingraham, and with help from local anti-Cantor tea party activists.

Mr Cantor, a former state legislator, was elected to Congress in 2000. He became majority leader in 2011, and is the most prominent Jewish Republican leader.

Press Association

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