RICHMOND, Va. — A political earthquake Tuesday night after polling stations closed for Virginia’s primary elections.
The No. 2 Republican in the House, Eric Cantor, lost his primary to a college professor and political neophyte. Cantor, House Majority Leader, was running for an eighth term in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, against Tea-Party backed economics professor David Brat.
Cantor has only faced a primary opponent twice before, and he was a favorite among Tea Partiers in 2010. Cantor conceded the race with 97% of precincts reporting from the Richmond-area district. Cantor trailed David Brat 55% to 44%, according to the State Board of Election’s website. Turnout was low.
Brat’s victory came as a surprise for many reasons. One is that a candidate hasn’t beaten a majority leader in a century — since 1899. Also, Cantor raised five million more than Brat. Election data shows that Brat raised $206,663, compared to Cantor’s $5,447,290.
Brat won Goochland County, Hanover County, Henrico County, Louisa County, New Kent County, and Chesterfield County. Cantor won Richmond City, Spotsylvania County, Orange County, and Culpeper County–by 57 votes.
Brat began his victory speech, held at an Innsbrook office, with a Bible quote, that he said he read for inspiration everyday. He also praised the grassroots movement that worked diligently to help him win the primary.
“Thank you, thank you so much for everything you did,” he said, as he noted the shoe leather and sweat that went into his victory.
“It’s not about David Brat winning tonight, it’s about returning the country to its principles,” Brat said.
“Obviously we came up short,” Eric Cantor said to a crowd of his supporters at the Westin Hotel in the near West End. Cantor insiders told CBS that they had hoped to win by 30 points. Immediately after his concession speech Cantor left the hotel.
Immediately after Cantor exited the room, a group of political demonstrators stormed in, waving a flag and shouting. Several skirmishes occurred during the uproar. Someone in the group, CASA De Virginia, had their glasses forcibly knocked off. Plates of food were pushed and protesters were also pushed around; one Cantor supporter was put in a choke hold. At this time it doesn’t seem as though any arrests were made.
CNN Crossfire host Newt Gingrich credited that a large part of Cantor’s constituency in Virginia’s reliably conservative 7th Congressional District concluded that he wasn’t listening and rose up to toss him out.
Cantor, he said, had a “great record” and was a hard worker in Congress. He added that Cantor was extremely smart and could still have a bright political future.
Brat is an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College outside Richmond.
Most Republicans view Cantor, 51, as the most conservative member in the House leadership lineup.
He was President Barack Obama’s chief foil in budget negotiations in 2011, a role he proudly points out during this campaign season.
In a phone interview with CNN on Monday, Brat argued that Cantor was more attentive to donors in New York and California and big business groups than he is to enacting an agenda based on Republican ideals.
“While he’s got an eye on the speaker job, he’s turned his back on his constituents,” Brat said.
He noted that Cantor and other GOP leaders have dropped their free market principles and not done enough to address looming deficit problems.
Brat attempted to frame his challenge as another case of a grassroots conservative taking on the GOP establishment, a major theme in Republican contests this year.
He has tried to make immigration reform the central issue, and said Cantor’s position would hurt the economy.
Brat said Cantor’s campaign ads have actually helped elevate his name ID and predicted he would win.
“On Tuesday you’re going to have a shock on your hands,” he predicted
Brat will meet Democrat Jack Trammell in November, also a professor at Randolph-Macon. Trammell was nominated at a party convention.
Brat recently appeared on CBS 6 News at 7 on Monday night to reach undecided voters ahead of the election.
“If ever there was any doubt, tonight’s results prove that extremists have taken over the Virginia Republican Party,Eric Cantor tried to cater to hard-core conservatives, but he failed. Ed Gillespie wants to do this too, and it won’t sit well with Virginians,” said Mayor Dwight Jones, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “I invite all mainstream Virginians to join Democrats in electing moderate leaders to Congress this November.”
***CNN Wire reports contributed to this report.***