Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Cantor challenger, Dave Brat, 'shocked' as results rolled in

By Deirdre Walsh, CNN Senior Congressional Producer
updated 11:57 AM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Upstart Dave Brat beat heavily favored incumbent Eric Cantor
  • Brat raised less than $300,000 compared to Cantor's $5 million
  • Challenger's main argument was that Cantor had turned his back on conservative principles

(CNN) -- Dave Brat, an economics professor and former seminary student, pulled off the biggest political upset of the year by ousting the No. 2 House Republican Eric Cantor in a primary challenge on Tuesday night.

"This is the happiest moment, obviously, of my life," Brat told his supporters at a post-election event in Glen Allen, outside Richmond, on Tuesday night. "The reason we won this campaign, there is just one reason, and that's because dollars do not vote -- you do."

Brat, who raised less than $300,000 to the House majority leader's campaign war chest of $5.4 million, said, "It's not about David Brat winning tonight, it's about returning the country to its principles."

Cantor failed to 'pay attention at home'

Just how surprising were the results? A close ally of Brat's told CNN shortly before the results were in that he was "shocked" and that senior campaign officials didn't believe he could pull in more than 40% of the vote. Brat ended up besting Cantor 56%-44%.

Lemon: 'Can we say holy you know what'

Cantor's team included some veteran Virginia political hands while some of Brat's top campaign staffers hadn't worked on a major campaign before.

Many political pundits were quick to credit the tea party for boosting Brat's campaign, but his campaign did not get any significant financial support from conservative groups because they were funneling money into other primary challengers they believed had a better shot at beating GOP incumbents.

Opinion: Who said the tea party was dead?

'A shock on your hands'

In an interview a day before the vote, Brat made a prediction most political candidates make to try to energize their supporters, telling CNN, "On Tuesday you're going to have a shock on your hands." Brat joked that he expected to see a CNN van in his driveway to cover his victory on Wednesday.

Brat's main argument in the race was that Cantor lost touch with his conservative principles. He told CNN, "My beef with Cantor isn't not a right- or left wing thing."

Citing his expertise on economics, Brat said the GOP leader and other top congressional Republicans in Washington had set aside their "free market principles" when they backed the bailout legislation that helped bolster Wall Street banks after the fiscal crisis in 2008.

But the longshot candidate centered most of his attacks against Cantor on the issue of immigration, arguing that the majority leader's support for small measures allowing some type of legal status for children of undocumented immigrants was "amnesty." Much of the media coverage about the race focused on Brat's attacks that Cantor wasn't pushing the conservative position.

Eric Cantor: It's disappointing

Cantor worked to reassure Republicans that he would not allow any legislation to come up for a vote that provided "amnesty." He sent out mailers to Republicans in the district with the message "conservative Republican Eric Cantor is stopping the Obama Reid plan to give illegal aliens amnesty."

But Brat told CNN the issue of "amnesty" resonated more than other issues like Obamacare and jobs "because it shows Eric flip-flopping and being unprincipled."

Jack Trammell is the Democrat who no longer has to face Eric Cantor

Ad spending

In addition to the top GOP leaders' position on immigration, Brat repeatedly touted his experience as an economist, and criticized both political parties for ignoring proposals to address Medicare and Social Security.

"Neither side of the aisle will talk about the most important issues because that is going to involve pain."

While he is a political neophyte, Brat has served on state and local government boards and was a president of the Virginia Association of Economists.

Despite being the overwhelming favorite, there were signs that Cantor's campaign sensed a threat. It spent more than $1 million on television and radio ads that attempted to paint Brat as a liberal. They noted that he was appointed to one of those boards by then-Democratic Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.

But Brat argued that Cantor's aggressive ad spending did him the favor of boosting his name identification around the district at a time when he didn't have the resources to run his own ads.

Brat, 49, grew up in the Midwest and moved to Henrico in 1996 to begin teaching economics and ethics at Randolph-Macon College, a small liberal arts institution. He has chaired the school's Economics and Business department for the past six years.

He and his wife Laura have two children.

Graham defeats conservative challengers, avoids runoff

Eric Cantor loses primary in big upset

Cantor 'earthquake' rattles Capitol Hill

Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:29 PM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
Their approval rating is horrendous. They rarely get along or get anything done. So here's your chance to do something about it.
Here's CNN's take on the key races in the House and the Senate this midterm year -- along with the key gubernatorial races across the country.
Voters head to the polls over the coming months to choose their candidates for November's general election. Here's a look at who votes when
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
President Obama is vowing to act on his own due to House inaction on immigration reform But there are limits to the power of his pen.
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
The major story line so far in 2014 is the ongoing battle that pits mainstream Republicans against tea party and anti-establishment groups.
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
S. E. Cupp interviews Carly Fiorina about her effort to rally conservative female voters for Senate races.
Some Democrats say there may be a silver lining in the ruling: It could motivate younger women and unmarried women to show up at the polls come November.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The GOP establishment, incumbent and mainstream candidates scored big wins.
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
This California Republican's back story is full of plot twists.
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
Why and how did a well-funded, powerful, conservative member of Congress lose to a political novice?
updated 3:44 PM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
President Obama's new rules aimed at dramatically limiting carbon pollution has been a policy priority of his and one that he hopes will help to shape his legacy.
updated 4:50 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, might not be the Republican Party's key to electoral victory as once thought.
updated 5:43 PM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
An advocacy group backed by hedge fund tycoon Tom Steyer is set to unleash a seven-state, $100 million offensive against GOP "science deniers."
Mitch McConnell mined decades of battle-hardened experience and carefully-tended relationships inside the GOP to win his primary.
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Fri May 16, 2014
Flooding the airwaves this election year are Democratic ads featuring two men not on any ballot, and not even politicians.
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Thu May 15, 2014
Taking a cue from Beyonce, House Democrats are targeting "all the single ladies" to try to win a few Republican-held seats.
A small edge right now in a key indicator of the midterm elections could lead to a big advantage for the Republicans come November.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million this year through a new organization called Everytown for Gun Safety.
ADVERTISEMENT