WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and the most senior Jewish official in government, was headed for defeat by a Tea Party primary challenger in his Richmond, Va. area district.
Cantor, 51, who rode the Tea Party wave to majority leader in the 2010 elections, was hemorrhaging votes to Dave Brat, 56 to 44 percent, with 87 percent of the vote counted on Tuesday evening.
Brat, an economics professor at a military academy, successfully depicted Cantor as pivoting away from conservatism, most prominently in leaning toward some immigration reforms.
Cantor, while keeping an immigration reform package from reaching the House floor, has said that he favored some of its elements, including paths to citizenships to immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.
Brat accused Cantor of dithering, and emphasized secure borders as his immigration policy.
Cantor’s meteoric rise made him the pride of politically conservative Jews.
After a career in the Virginia legislature, he was elected to the House in 2000 and was made chief deputy whip just two years later, before his 40th birthday.
A prodigious fundraiser, Cantor joined with two other young conservatives in the party, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy ahead of the 2010 elections and formed the “Young Guns” political action committee, backing young challengers to a party establishment seen as soft in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential win.
Cantor at first embraced the Tea Party wave, and carefully hewed to the right of the House Speaker, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), whom he reportedly hoped to challenge.
Cantor, who barely contained his dislike for Obama, was a lead player in forcing Boehner to shut down government in 2013. The shutdown was seen as disastrous for Republicans, and more recently, Cantor began to steer center, for instance in advancing an interventionist foreign policy and in embracing aspects of immigration reform.
Cantor has said that his own background, as the grandchild of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, informed some of his views.
He has been since 2006 the only Republican Jew in Congress and has delved into Jewish learning as he ascended to his party’s leadership, taking private lessons with rabbis.