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Eric Cantor loss has Republican leadership scrambling

Tribune wire services

Republican lawmakers are scrambling to identify the party's future leaders after the shock primary election defeat of Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, by a politcal rookie backed by the Tea Party movement.

It could take months of political jockeying before House Republicans settle on their next leadership team. That timetable could accelerate with Cantor announcing that he will resign as House Majority Leader effective July 31, according to the Washington Post.

Cantor had been seen by many as an eventual successor to Boehner until his defeat last night.

The primary result unleashed immediate speculation about a possible replacement for Cantor, including Jim Jordan of Ohio, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, when the House meets to pick new leaders at the end of the year. Peter Roskam of Illinois was also considered early Wednesday as a potential successor, though some feel it's more likely he will vie for the position of whip.

Hensarling said on Wednesday he was "humbled" that people had approached him about possibly taking on a new leadership role in the U.S. House of Representatives and was considering his next steps.

Shortly after Tuesday's election results were announced, Cantor canceled a speech he was scheduled to deliver on Wednesday to the National Association of Manufacturers. The president of the association, Jay Timmons, praised Cantor as "a voice of civility and reason in the House Republican caucus."

Democratic Senator Chris Coons spoke in Cantor's place and lamented on Cantor's defeat to the more conservative Brat.

"The lack of clarity about the path forward out of that primary I think does set us back in some ways in terms of encouraging those who are willing to have a conversation about reaching across the aisle," Coons, a Delaware senator, said.

Tea party emboldened? 

Some members of the GOP establishment believe Cantor's loss could embolden conservative lawmakers who oppose compromise with Obama's Democrats on a bevy of issues from budget and tax policy to immigration reform to gun rights.

"My concern is that the Ted Cruz supporters, the Rand Paul supporters, are going to use this as an excuse to basically stop the government from functioning," Representative Peter King, Republican of New York, told MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday, referring to the two influential conservative senators who could run for president in 2016.

Cruz, a Texas Republican and favorite of the Tea Party, pushed a strategy to deny funding to Obama's healthcare plan that resulted in a 16-day government shutdown. Many conservative lawmakers look to Cruz and Paul, Kentucky's junior senator, for guidance. 

"Thank God there's no debt ceiling vote coming up. Thank God there's no opportunity to shut the government down over the next several months, because I think we could get bogged down in those type of issues," King said, predicting the death of a variety of legislative proposals.

'Apocalyptic moment' for establishment

"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 and ForAmerica.

The GOP mainstream had recently scored a string of victories over the Tea Party in primaries to select candidates for the November elections. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also faced a Tea Party challenge on Tuesday, but he beat a crowded field of six challengers who also had accused him of not being conservative enough. Republicans are hoping to pick up six seats to gain a Senate majority but are considered heavy favorites to retain a House majority.

"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 Representative Steve Israel of New York, who heads the House Democratic campaign committee.

In his campaign against Cantor, Randolph-Macon College economics professor David Brat accused Cantor of being too willing to compromise with Democrats on immigration and budget issues and of not fighting hard enough against President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law known as Obamacare. That, despite Cantor's role in staging more than 40 votes in the House to repeal all or parts of Obamacare over the last few years.

Brat beat Cantor despite being vastly outpspent. Cantor shelled out more than $5 million to head off the challenge from Brat, who only spent only about $122,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Brat was not seen in the media or national Republican circles as a danger to Cantor in the days and weeks leading up to the election and was predicted by some race watchers to lose by between 10 and 25 percentage points. 

Brat 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.

Speaking to a shell-shocked crowd of suppporters Tuesday night, Cantor said simply, "I know there are a lot of long faces here tonight. It's disappointing, sure."

Brat, speaking to an ecstatic crowd, said: "This is the happiest moment, obviously, of my life."


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