U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is highly unlikely to quit his party leadership position after his primary defeat Tuesday, according to a Republican familiar with his plans.
Cantor, who overwhelmingly outspent an intraparty rival, lost a Virginia congressional primary election to Tea Party-backed David Brat, a college professor who attacked the seven-term lawmaker’s stance on immigration.
Cantor had been considered the front-runner to become the next speaker of the House. With his defeat, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, the chamber’s third-ranking Republican and one of the Virginian’s closest allies, is expected to vie for the No. 2 job, one lawmaker said.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, chairwoman of the House Republican conference and the top Republican woman in House leadership, is weighing bids for the majority leader’s post or whip, according to a Republican aide.
Reps. Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican who serves as the House’s chief deputy whip, and Steve Scalise of Louisiana will run for whip, according to Republican aides familiar with their plans.
McCarthy didn’t address his plans in a statement Tuesday praising Cantor’s “graciousness and leadership.”
The upset left the party’s succession plans up in the air.
“I think that will resolve itself,” Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, said Wednesday of Cantor remaining majority leader through the November elections. Without naming names, he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program that he started getting emails from people campaigning for Cantor’s leadership post last night.
“The campaign has begun,” King said.
Cantor’s loss has widely been interpreted Wednesday as stemming from a combination of factors.
Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Richmond, Virginia, with a doctorate in economics and master’s degree in divinity, challenged Cantor as sympathetic to attempts by House leaders to enact immigration laws that President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats are seeking.
Brat characterized Cantor as an influential Washington player paying attention to his role as a House leader rather than voters in Virginia. Relatively low turnout in a congressional primary enabled Brat’s motivated allies to outnumber any support that Cantor could claim, the newcomer defeating the veteran lawmaker by more than 10 percentage points.
“You can’t run campaigns from Washington,” King said.
The prospects for revamping the nation’s immigration laws aren’t all that are dashed by the impending House leadership struggle and the ways in which Republicans will interpret the implications of Cantor’s loss, he said.
“A lot of things are going to be dead,” King said. “Thank God there’s no debt-ceiling vote coming up.”
The upset followed a lopsided contest: Cantor reported raising $5.4 million for his campaign through May 21 while Brat raised $207,000, in the latest data available at the Federal Election Commission.
Cantor’s campaign aired 1,038 television ads, some attacking Brat as a “liberal college professor.” The professor’s campaign ran 65 ads, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks ads.