NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has announced that he will resign his leadership post this summer after losing a primary election Tuesday night in a major upset, officials said.
Cantor made a formal announcement on Wednesday.
“While I intend to serve out my term as a member of Congress in the 7th District of Virginia, effective July 31 I will be stepping down as majority leader. It is with great humility I do so knowing the tremendous honor it has been to hold this position,” Cantor said.
Cantor also said that if his “good friend,” California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, currently the majority whip, wanted to succeed him that he’d have his full support, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
Cantor lost his primary re-election bid to a little-known Tea Party candidate, sending shock waves through Washington.
“This was a surprise that no one saw coming. There were shocks throughout the Congress,” Rep. Peter King told Kramer
“Very few endings in politics are happy ones,” King added.
King told Kramer the defeat of Cantor, the second most powerful man in the House, is bad news for moderates in the House Republican Conference and could spell legislative gridlock.
The defeat may empower Tea Party advocates to dig their heels in deeper on issues such as the budget, deficit and immigration reform, Kramer reported.
“It’s going to be very difficult to get anything through,” King said. “I think you will see a lot of gridlock. This defeat of Cantor has pretty much divided the Republican Party and certainly slowed down the Republican party.
“As a New York Republican, we cannot allow the Ted Cruz and Rand Paul forces to use this defeat of Eric Cantor as an opportunity for them to take over the party,” King said in a separate interview with WCBS 880’s Steve Scott. ” … There is a real battle of ideas going on. There’s a battle for the soul and future of the Republican Party. And all of us in the Republican Party have to take a side and fight hard in that war.”
In defeat, Cantor was brief Tuesday night.
“Obviously we came up short,” Cantor told his supporters.
Cantor lost to a little-known economics professor named Dave Brat, who spent $122,000 on his campaign compared to $5 million by Cantor.
“Dollars do not vote. You do,” Brat said. “This is a victory from God that just happened.”
Brat campaigned for cutting spending and against comprehensive immigration reform.
Ironically, Cantor himself was one of the Tea Party’s earliest and most vocal backers, Kramer reported.
Recently, Cantor angered some conservatives by voting to raise the debt ceiling and backing legislation that would grant legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, Kramer reported. Cantor called the issue one of “decency and compassion.”
“Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer said Cantor’s ability to negotiate and compromise with Democrats is not what Tea Party voters want.
“What this is a bout is a deep and widening divide in the Republican party,” Schieffer said. “They’re basically against everybody in the establishment, and in elected office right now.”
The primary loss delighted Democrats. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said it could have a huge effect on the midterm elections.
“It’s a whole new ballgame,” Pelosi said.
Congressman King wasn’t as gloomy, but still sounded concerned.
“As you saw last night anything can happen, but I would say right now the odds are the Republicans will maintain control of the House. But I take nothing for granted,” King said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio noted the irony behind Cantor’s loss Wednesday, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
“Eric Cantor helped to create the presence of the Tea Party in the House of Representatives,” de Blasio said. “And Eric Cantor helped to paralyze our federal government.”
The mayor added, however: “We should all feel some deep caution that some in the Republican Party will sense this as a moment to turn even more conservative and get even more out of touch with the majority of the American people.”
Pundit Larry Sabato called the defeat “truly a political earthquake.”
“People had been afraid to challenge him, and it’s worked for him for the most part,” Sabato said of Cantor. “But as he became more senior, he started traveling a great deal nationally and internationally and he just became disconnected from the district.”
Brat will face Democrat Jack Trammel in the fall, and begins as an overwhelming favorite. The district is solidly Republican, and Democratic officials said they do not anticipate committing money or other resources as long as it remains a two-man race and Cantor does not decide to mount a write-in campaign.
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