The “Center of the Universe” will now be the epicenter of the race for the 7th District congressional seat.
Tuesday night, in a huge upset, Tea Party-supported challenger David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, defeated longtime incumbent and current Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican Primary.
Brat will now face a fellow member of the Randolph-Macon faculty, Democratic candidate Jack Trammell, in the November election, putting a new twist on an already national storyline.
Brat effectively energized his base through multiple appearances on conservative media and very public criticism of his opponent – one of the top-ranking Republicans in Congress – charging the days before the primary that the incumbent was soft on amnesty for illegal immigrants and that a vote for Cantor was a vote for “open borders and lower wages.”
In Hanover, Brat garnered 67.8 percent of the vote Tuesday, carrying all of the county’s precincts in an election that attracted 12,884 total voters, according to State Board of Elections’ unofficial tally. Much has changed in two years. In 2012, Cantor won Hanover with 76.4 percent of the vote over primary challenger Floyd Bayne.
Teresa Smithson, county registrar, confirmed Wednesday that 19.8 percent of the registered voters in Hanover County cast ballots Tuesday, based on her pre-canvass numbers. In 2012, approximately 13 percent of registered Hanover voters showed up at the polls, for comparison.
Though it was a Republican Primary, any registered voter was allowed to cast a ballot Tuesday.
Smithson said that there were no issues at the polls Tuesday, though she continued to review polling place paperwork.
“That’s the way we like it, nice and quiet,” she said.
In the 7th District, at large, the contest was closer, with Brat still defeating Cantor by a 10-point margin. Brat used that momentum during his victory speech in Glen Allen Tuesday night.
“When I go to D.C. every vote I take will move the pendulum in the direction of the people away from Washington D.C., back to the states, back to the localities,” Brat said.
Brat noted that he respected his opponent but differed with him on the core issues.
“I did not run against Eric Cantor as a person – he’s a good man, I respect him as a person – I ran against a set of principles,” Brat said.
After telling the crowd his position on the issues had been mischaracterized by the media, Brat said moving forward, he will adhere to six Republican principles: commitment to free markets, equal treatment under the law for all people, fiscal responsibility, adherence to constitutional principles, a strong national defense and that faith in God is essential to the moral fiber of the nation.
At right, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor presents an American flag to Jack Ward during a Memorial Day ceremony in Hanover. Cantor lost a primary June 10.
In his concession speech, Cantor, who has served in the House since 2001, and who many thought was next in line to be named Speaker, reflected on his time in in the U.S. Capitol.
“Serving as the 7th District congressman and then having the privilege of being Majority Leader has been one of the highest honors of my life,” he said.
In noting that his campaign came up short, Cantor urged those in attendance to keep focusing their efforts on using conservative solutions to ensure access to the “American Dream” for working middle class families and the most vulnerable.
“The agenda I have always said that we’re about is we want to create a Virginia and an America that works for everybody,” he said.
“I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight, and it’s disappointing, sure, but I believe in this country, I believe there’s opportunity around the next corner for all of us,” Cantor added.
While Brat and Cantor were offering their victory and concession speeches, respectively, Democrats were announcing their candidate in the 7th District.
“I am running because I believe Virginians are hungry for a radical change from the dysfunctional and reckless politics being practiced by those in Congress – and the results of
tonight’s primary election are the proof,” Trammell said in a statement released by the Democratic Party of Virginia Tuesday night. “In the coming months, I look forward to a spirited campaign where we can talk about the issues that matter to our community, and how we can get Congress re-focused on the priorities that truly matter to us.”
On his campaign Facebook page, Trammell said his campaign officially kicked off June 9 – the eve of the primary – after receiving a unanimous nomination from the 7th District Committee.
Trammell, director of disability support services at Randolph-Macon College, also directs the honors program and teaches courses in disability studies in the college’s sociology department.
In naming their dog in November’s fight, Democrats also used the primary as a springboard to paint Virginia’s Republican Party as extremist.
“If ever there was any doubt, tonight’s results prove that extremists have taken over the Virginia Republican Party,” said Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “Eric Cantor tried to cater to hard-core conservatives, but he failed.”
And so begins what’s sure to be a close-watched race in the “Center of the Universe.”