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Eric Cantor: A Brief Biography

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary Tuesday night in an upset that stunned Capitol Hill. College professor David Brat defeated Cantor, 56 percent to 44 percent, according to The Associated Press. Below is more information about the Virginia Republican and his district from his CQ member profile.  

Officially, Cantor is the House majority leader. Unofficially, he serves as the GOP leadership team’s bridge to the younger and more conservative segments of the Republican Party. He is a powerful ally (and reputed occasional rival) of Speaker John A. Boehner.  

Cantor wears stylish suits and speaks in a Southern drawl. Widely viewed as a speaker-in-waiting, he made clear after tough elections in 2012 that he would not challenge Boehner, calling him a mentor in a “real partnership” that is “focused on trying to deliver results.”  

“I stand with Speaker Boehner when he says, ‘Let’s rise above the dysfunction, and do the right thing together for our country,’” he said in November 2012. “Economic growth, entitlement reform and solving our spending crisis are our top priorities.”
Those were also their priorities for the 112th Congress (2011-12), when Cantor ascended to his current post. The new GOP majority in 2011 included a huge freshman class and a number of small-government conservatives energized by the tea party movement.  

Boehner and Cantor took a laissez-faire approach to managing their caucus, letting various factions get votes on their preferred bills and often declining to mete out punishment when those factions refused to support the leadership’s plans. At times the results were politically damaging. The law governing federal farm programs lapsed for the last three months of 2012, as internal disputes in the party prompted Cantor to delay floor action on a reauthorization. To salvage a two-year surface transportation bill, Cantor stressed to conservatives “why we’ve got to do what we have to do,” he said. “What gets results around here … is education.”  

For the 113th Congress (2013-14), Cantor has the option to be more forceful. Tweaks to GOP Conference rules allow him to bring more bills to the House floor under suspension of the rules, a process that limits debate and requires a two-thirds majority for passage; there will be fewer opportunities for obstruction. The Class of 2010 had two representatives on the leadership team; now it’s down to one.  

What’s unchanged is Cantor’s efficiency in setting the House calendar. A move to align schedules with the Senate in the 113th Congress — while allowing week-long district work periods — earned bipartisan praise.  

There has been tension between Cantor and Boehner when Cantor seems to push the interests of the conservative wing of the party. Unlike Boehner and GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, Cantor retains membership in the conservative Republican Study Committee. In early 2011, he resisted a plan devised by Boehner and President Barack Obama for pairing spending cuts with increases in revenue. In January 2013, he voted against the “fiscal cliff” deal that allowed higher tax rates on income over $400,000, while permanently extending lower rates under that threshold. Boehner voted for it.  

But he has also hit a few snags when trying to favor leadership plans over the desires of conservatives. He scheduled an April 2013 vote on a bill to modify Democrats’ 2010 health care law; it would have shifted money from the Prevention and Public Health Fund to high-risk insurance pools that had been closed to new enrollment. Several prominent conservative groups criticized the measure as an acceptance of the overhaul law and said Republicans should focus only on repeal. As outside pressure increased and the outcome of the vote became less certain, Cantor pulled the bill from the floor.  

Cantor, a former member of the Ways and Means Committee, hones GOP strategy on business-related themes. He is a lawyer with a master’s degree in real estate development from Columbia University. He helped secure enactment of a 2012 law to ease regulations on startup businesses.  

In 2003, Cantor became chief deputy to GOP Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri. Blunt lost a race against Boehner for the position of minority leader in early 2006, but Cantor passed on that opportunity to challenge Blunt for the whip job. Two years later, Blunt stepped aside, and Cantor won election to succeed him. In his lone term as whip, Cantor displayed a smooth style as the chief GOP vote counter. He was elected majority leader in November 2010 without opposition.  

Cantor wrote a 2010 book with McCarthy and Wisconsin Republican Paul D. Ryan — the Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee — outlining their vision for the party. A leader of the “Young Guns” candidate recruitment program, he raised more than $5 million for his leadership political action committee in the 2012 cycle. He helped raise a comparable amount for the YG Action Network PAC.  

He has a penchant for bold moves to help his allies. When redistricting prompted freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger and 10-term Rep. Donald Manzullo to oppose each other in a 2012 Illinois primary, Cantor angered some in the party by openly supporting Kinzinger, who won. Boehner stayed neutral.  

Cantor grew up in a well-to-do, politically active Richmond family. His father, Eddie, was on the board of the Virginia Housing Development Authority, and his mother, Mary Lee, was a board member of the Family and Children’s Trust Fund and the Science Museum of Virginia. He is the only Jewish Republican in Congress, and he leads colleagues on visits to Israel.  

While in college, Cantor interned for Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. of Virginia, driving the Republican’s campaign car around the district. He also worked as an aide to Walter A. Stosch, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.  

Cantor worked in the family real estate business before he was elected to Congress. His wife, Diana, serves as board chairwoman of the Virginia Retirement System, a public employee pension fund, and is a director of Media General Inc. and Domino’s Pizza.  

When Stosch ran for the state Senate in 1991, the 28-year-old Cantor won election to become the youngest member of the House of Delegates. Bliley’s campaign machinery helped Cantor, and he frequently served as Bliley’s campaign chairman. Bliley announced his retirement in 2000, and Cantor won election to replace him — after eking out a 263-vote win over state Sen. Stephen H. Martin in the Republican primary.  

His re-elections have been easy contests. Running in a redrawn district in 2012, Cantor had his most competitive race in a decade — but he still defeated retired U.S. Army Colonel E. Wayne Powell by 17 points.  

CQ District Description The conservative 7th District takes in Richmond’s heavily populated West End and South Side suburbs, stretching northeast through the small towns and farmland of central Virginia until it reaches the Washington, D.C., exurbs in Spotsylvania and Culpeper counties.  

As the center of state government and a major tobacco industry headquarters, Richmond has white-collar professionals who live in the wealthy suburbs of Henrico County to the north and east and Chesterfield County to the southwest. Historic mansions and old-money estates are part of the West End. The city, which is a financial hub, has long had a manufacturing base, and Altria’s Philip Morris tobacco company continues to be one of the largest employers. In growing Midlothian and surrounding Chesterfield County, extensive commercial growth is a concern for residents who want to maintain a small-town, community vibe. Agriculture is important to counties in the 7th: Culpeper produces sod and Orange is a top grower of wine grapes.  

At the district’s northeast, Culpeper and Spotsylvania have grown steadily as Washington’s professional class moves farther from the city — battling clogged commuting routes — and parts of the region have increasingly begun to identify themselves with Northern Virginia. Spotsylvania is home to Richmond commuters and has recently attracted new technology firms.  

Richmond is a black-majority city, but the total population of the 7th is less than 15 percent black. Redistricting bolstered the 7th’s Republican slant, cutting out Madison and Rappahannock counties as well as parts of northern Richmond. The district gained a larger share of Spotsylvania County in the north and all of rural New Kent County east of Richmond down Interstate 64. The new map makes the 7th even safer for the GOP. Republican Bob McDonnell won nearly 70 percent in the 2009 gubernatorial race within the new borders, his best showing statewide. Mitt Romney took 57 percent of the vote in the 2012 presidential election.

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