David Brat, the Republican college professor who ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a historic upset Tuesday, shouldn’t get too comfortable.
While Brat is the heavy favorite to win in Virginia’s solidly Republican 7th District in November, he would start his congressional career with a bull’s-eye on his back from fellow Richmond-area Republicans.
And with state legislative elections falling in odd years, anyone who wanted to wage a primary bid against Brat in 2016 would get a free pass — able to keep their positions in the state Senate and House of Delegates.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Brat’s team, but there was an element of, this guy wasn’t Eric Cantor,” one Virginia GOP operative said of Brat’s win, suggesting it was more of an anti-Cantor repudiation than a pro-Brat vote.
GOP operatives in the state rattled off a handful of Republicans who would be most likely to wade into a primary with Brat. They are:
State Sen. Steve Martin: Martin lost to Cantor by less than 300 votes in a GOP primary in the 7th District in 2000 — the last time the seat was open. The race was bitter, and according to Republicans in the state, the chasm it created amid Virginia GOP circles took a long time to heal.
Del. Peter Farrell: Farrell’s legislative district also encompasses a chunk of the 7th District. Farrell actually defeated Brat in 2011 to become the GOP nominee in his legislative district. Farrell has ties to money and influence — his father is CEO of Dominion Virginia Power.
To be sure, Republican operatives say talk of potential primary challengers is all dependent on what Brat does when he — likely — heads to Congress in January.
“This just makes the area more volatile right now,” another longtime Virginia Republican operative said. “He could easily get tossed out in two years because he’s decided to go to Washington to be a … firebrand rather than somebody who does something. The 7th District will not tolerate [that].”
Virginia’s 7th District is a Safe Republican seat. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried it by a 15-point margin in 2012.