With the Defeat of Eric Cantor, Congress Loses its only Jewish Republican

Thursday, June 12, 2014
Eric Cantor (photo: Steve Helber, AP)

Congressman Eric Cantor’s time in the House will stand out in many ways, particularly for his religion and what that meant for his now-toppled career.


Cantor was the only Republican member of Congress who was Jewish, and had been the only Republican Jewish member of the House of Representatives since the retirement of Ben Gilman of New York in 2003.


With eyes on making history, the ambitious Virginian hoped to succeed Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) and become the first Jewish House speaker. But that won’t happen now that Cantor, the House majority leader, was defeated Tuesday in the Republican primary by Tea Party upstart David Brat.


Cantor’s Jewish heritage may have played a role in the stunning loss he sustained, according to David Wasserman, an analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

“Part of this plays into his religion,” Wasserman told The New York Times, noting that Cantor’s seat (Virginia’s 7th congressional district) became more rural and conservative as a result of reapportionment following the 2010 census. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.” Jews make up less than one-half of one percent of the population of the district.


The sting of losing what was expected to be an easy renomination was compounded by this: No House majority leader had ever been knocked off in a primary, not since the House created the position in 1899, according to Eric Ostermeier of Smart Politics.


That marks a string of 115 years broken by Cantor, whose pollster assured him only a week before the vote that he was up by 34 points. He wound up losing by 10 percent.


There are still 33 Jews in Congress; 12 in the Senate and 21 others in the House. However, they’re all Democrats or independents who caucus with them.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Jewish Members of U.S. Congress: 113th Congress (Jewish Virtual Library)

Opponent Resonated With Christian Conservatives in a Way Cantor Could Not (by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times)

Cantor’s Loss a Bad Omen for Moderates (by Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times)

Eric Cantor 1st House Majority Leader to Lose Renomination Bid in History (by Eric Ostermeier, Smart Politics)


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