Cantor Primary Loss Shakes Up Republican Leadership

Last week, a Virginia primary stunned pollsters and political insiders as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-07) fell to a previously little-known primary challenger with only $84,000 in the bank and a flip phone to run his campaign. Few national media outlets were following the race before the precinct results began coming in, which showed Cantor trailing his opponent by more than 10 points; pre-election polling had placed Cantor at a 30+ point lead. 

Cantor’s 55-44 capitulation to challenger Dave Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, is a major upset for Republican Leadership and marks the first ever primary loss in history of a sitting House Majority Leader. 

Representative Cantor announced he would resign his post effective July 1, prompting the House Republican Caucus to hold elections on Thursday, June 19 to restructure its Leadership. 

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), who previously addressed IEC members at the 2013 IEC National Legislative Conference, handily won Cantor’s position over his colleague Representative Raul Labrador (ID-01). McCarthy’s ascent to Majority Leader set off a scramble for the then-vacant Majority Whip position, with Representatives Steve Scalise (LA-01), Peter Roskam (IL-06), and Marlin Stutzman (IN-03) all vying for the role. Representative Scalise, who currently serves as head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, secured the 117 votes necessary to win the Majority Whip seat and avoid a runoff.  

As Representatives McCarthy and Scalise settle into their new roles, it will remain to be seen how the remainder of the House floor calendar is filled with only six legislative weeks until Congress recesses for the month of August. Both the House and Senate continue to move appropriations legislation as the fiscal year deadline draws near. IEC hopes there will soon be action on the bipartisan, bicameral compromise Workforce Investment Act (WIA) reauthorization bill, which our organization and members strongly support. With growing instability in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kenya and terrorist violence on the rise, we may very likely see legislative responses take precedent on the schedule in both the House and Senate should any congressional authorization or supplemental funding for military action be required. With Cantor’s primary loss, however, immigration reform – which House Leadership had anticipated raising in July – may well be dead in the water this year.

IEC will continue to keep our members apprised of the changing legislative landscape and opportunities to take grassroots action on key issues. Representatives McCarthy and Scalise will begin their new roles on July 31, when Representative Cantor officially resigns as Majority Leader.