Cantor faces threat from tea party
Along the way, he has become a major player on the national stage as House majority leader, built a massive campaign war chest and created an aura of invulnerability in the reliably Republican 7th District, which includes part of Chesterfield County.
But as he seeks his seventh term in Congress, Cantor now faces a different type of challenge – not from his left flank, but from a tea party-backed conservative within his own party.
Dave Brat, an economics professor at Randolph- Macon College, is running a grassroots campaign to upset Cantor in Virginia’s June 10 Republican primary and earn the nomination to represent the GOP in the November general election.
Cantor’s former political director, Amanda Chase, has acknowledged in an interview with National Review Online that “this is probably the first time that Eric has had a credible opponent with a comparable education and background.”
Brat’s campaign, which has drawn attention from several national political websites, is considered by many to be a significant barometer in the battle between moderates in the Republican establishment and increasingly powerful tea party conservatives determined to move the party to the far right.
“I honestly believe the vote is out there for me to win,” Brat said. “I just have to get people to the polls … that’s the hard part.”
Brat got a boost locally in early April when Pete Greenwald, a U.S. Navy veteran and teacher at James River High, ended his bid for the Republican nomination and threw his support behind Brat.
Brat also recently turned heads when he picked up an endorsement from conservative writer Ann Coulter.
Calling Cantor a “maniacal amnesty supporter,” Coulter mocked the House majority leader’s suggestion that immigration reform could benefit the American economy.
“You don’t have to be an economics professor [like Dave Brat] to know that bringing in millions of workers is not ‘an economic boon’ to the workers already here,” she wrote.
Brat has a different label for his powerful opponent. He calls Cantor “a corporate Congressman” and insists that Cantor’s policies on immigration and every other issue flow from his unshakable fealty to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“He’s a cheerleader for big business,” Brat said. “He’s not interested in the long-term health of our economy.”
Brat, who earned his Ph.D. in Economics from American University, cited communist-run China as an ironic example of the power of free-market economic principles.
“If you look at why China is able to feed 1.2 billion people, it’s because they’re moving toward freedom and away from a government solution,” he added. “We’re moving in the wrong direction. Our economy has slowed and theirs is growing.”
To defeat Cantor, Brat must overcome his own economic plight: As of March 31, Cantor’s Federal Election Commission report showed that his campaign had approximately $2 million in cash on hand, or about 40 times more than Brat’s campaign had collected.
Brat is trying to overcome those challenges by connecting with voters in the 7th District.
According to Brat, he has received a warm reception from Republicans throughout the district, with just one exception: Chesterfield.
Brat claims that leaders of the Chesterfield Republican Committee allowed him to speak at a breakfast two weeks ago, but so far have refused his requests to present his platform at one of the committee’s more widely attended monthly meetings.
Brat said that Chairman Donald Williams and other committee members loyal to Cantor are “trying to keep me from talking.”
“They’re acting like [Cantor] has monopoly rights to run,” Brat added. “I want to show them where the true power in our democracy resides, and that’s with the people.
“I don’t care how many big check writers you have; if I get the people, I win.”
Williams disputed Brat’s assertion and noted in an email that the Chesterfield Republican Committee hosted both candidates for the Republican nomination “in the same manner and similar venue.”
“Both Mr. Brat and Congressman Cantor have spoken at a Saturday morning breakfast – neither has spoken at a membership meeting this year,” Williams said.