By JAKE SHERMAN - April 27th, 2014
His allies are maneuvering to pack leadership slots at the Republican Party of Virginia with like-minded figures — a move they hope will bring stability to a party with little money and lots of infighting.
That’s infuriated some local conservatives, who feel they are being squeezed out of positions of power and aren’t going down without a fight. They are rallying behind insurgent primary challenger Dave Brat, an economics professor with just $40,000 in the bank — compared to Cantor’s $2 million.
While Brat has little chance of upsetting Cantor in the June 10 primary, the campaign and its supporters are making life a little tougher for Cantor, who will almost certainly become the next speaker of the House.
It’s a reminder for the majority leader: His power and prominence in Washington could hurt him with conservatives in his district. Cantor’s aides are aware of the need to minimize friction with the far right, but their internal polling shows that people who self-identify as members of the tea party overwhelmingly support Cantor.
Both Cantor and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have primary challenges this year.
“What we’re talking about here is Eric Cantor disenfranchising and attacking the conservative base of his own party,” said Larry Nordvig, a leader of the Richmond Tea Party. “And he’s supposed to be a leader in the Republican Party. Good leaders don’t attack their own people. I’m very upset about it. It’s un-American. It’s a cheap trick.”
The right’s angst with Cantor is a new phenomenon. When Republicans gained control of the House in 2011, Cantor was seen as the tea party’s voice in leadership. But debt ceiling hikes and Cantor’s support for immigration reform have given conservatives pause.
So far, Cantor’s career has proceeded mostly without hiccup. He has served in his party’s leadership for more than a decade and is in line to be the next speaker. His biggest challenge is remaining patient, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) shows no signs of retiring soon.
But his obstacles back home were on display at a recent meeting of the Hanover County Republican Party, held in a conference room at a Bass Pro Shop in Ashland. Brat’s supporters at the gathering far outnumbered Cantor’s, and the upstart challenger took the opportunity to lambaste Washington — and Cantor.
The central theme of Brat’s campaign is that Cantor is beholden to business — specifically the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.
“If you’re in big business, Eric’s been very good to you, and he gets a lot of donations because of that, right?” Brat said at the meeting. “Very powerful. Very good at fundraising because he favors big business. But when you’re favoring artificially big business, someone’s paying the tab for that. Someone’s paying the price for that, and guess who that is? You.”