(Reuters) — The shocking defeat of Eric Cantor was dubbed an “apocalyptic” moment for the Republican mainstream as Tea Party populist conservatives showed off their grassroots muscle — and proved virtually no lawmaker is safe from a challenge from the right.
Cantor’s defeat to a political unknown is likely to halt any efforts to craft a House immigration reform bill, as nervous Republicans hustle to protect themselves against future challenges from the right ahead of the Nov. 4 midterm elections.
It could also make Republicans even more hesitant to cooperate with President Barack Obama and Democrats for fear of being labeled a compromiser.
“We all saw how far outside the mainstream this Republican Congress was with Eric Cantor at the helm, now we will see them run further to the far right with the Tea Party striking fear into the heart of every Republican on the ballot,” said U.S. Representative Steve Israel of New York, who heads the House Democratic campaign committee.
The victory emboldened conservative leaders who had seen a string of primary losses by Tea Party candidates this year to candidates backed by the Republican establishment, and it could encourage a conservative challenge to Boehner at the end of the year when the new leadership team is chosen.
“Eric Cantor’s loss tonight is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment. The grassroots is in revolt and marching,” said Brent Bozell, a veteran conservative activist and founder of the Media Research Center.
With nearly all precincts reporting, Brat had about 56 percent of the vote to Cantor’s 44 percent.
“I know there are a lot of long faces here tonight,” Cantor told supporters. “It’s disappointing, sure.”
Brat, speaking to an ecstatic crowd, said: “This is the happiest moment, obviously, of my life.”
Brat had repeatedly attacked Cantor for voting to raise the debt ceiling and accused him of supporting some immigration reform principles. In response, Cantor had sent voters a mailer boasting of his role in trying to kill a House immigration bill that would have offered what he called amnesty to undocumented workers.
During the primary campaign, Brat repeatedly accused Cantor of supporting some immigration reform principles, including “amnesty” for undocumented workers. In response, Cantor had sent voters a mailer boasting of his role in trying to kill a House immigration bill that included that provision.
Brat also accused Cantor of losing touch with his central Virginia district while serving the party’s leadership.
Republican strategists suggested Cantor had been too slow to realize how real the threat from Brat was.
“Easiest way to lose a campaign is to not take your opponent seriously,” strategist Matt Mackowiak said on Twitter.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also faced a Tea Party challenge on Tuesday but he beat a crowded field of six challengers who had accused him of not being conservative enough.