Washington: In a stunning defeat, number-two House Republican Eric Cantor has been ousted by a more conservative primary challenger who delivered a body blow to the Republican establishment.
Majority Leader Cantor, a powerful party insider who was widely seen as a future speaker of the House, lost his Richmond, Virginia seat to Tea Party-backed insurgent David Brat yesterday, who had been thought such a longshot he barely received media airtime.
"I`m running 100 per cent on just mainstream Republican issues. The Republicans need to do a better job of following these, and then we`ll get the country out of the ditch," Brat said on Fox TV.
Brat was outspent on the campaign by Cantor - by more than 25 to one.
Yet the veteran Cantor became widely seen in his district as focusing on national Republican positioning. Failing to grasp the scope of the threat, he ignored his own re-election primary race - until it was too late.
"The people are just ready for some major changes in this country," Brat told Fox. "I attribute it to God," he said of his upset. "I`m a believer and so I`m humbled God gave us this win. Just an unbelievable miracle.
His defeat marked a repudiation of establishment politics and plunged his own party`s leadership into a state of flux in the midst of the campaign season for November`s midterm congressional elections.
Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, conceded last evening, saying the loss was "disappointing."
"But I believe in this country. I believe there`s opportunity around the next corner for all of us," he told supporters in a short concession speech.
"We want to create a Virginia and an America that works for everybody," Cantor added. "So I`ll look forward to continuing to fight for the things that we believe in."
With all 243 precincts reporting, Brat, an economics professor at a Virginia college, defeated Cantor 55.5 per cent to 44.5 per cent. It now throws the once-safe House seat up in the air for the November election.
"This is an earthquake," Minnesota ex-congressman Vin Weber, a Cantor friend, told The Washington Post. "No one thought he`d lose."
Larry Sabato, who heads the Centre for Politics at the University of Virginia, called Cantor`s loss "one of the most stunning upsets in modern American political history," according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
"This is the base rebelling against the GOP leadership in Washington," he added.
If 2010 and 2012 were the years of Tea Party revolt that saw several of their candidates swept into Congress, 2014 was shaping up to be the year the establishment struck back.