Tuesday’s stunning primary defeat of Eric Cantor, the House majority leader and only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives elicited, surprise from Jewish political groups and players on both sides of the aisle who say they are losing a strong ally for their issues.
“I’ve had the privilege to know and work with Eric Cantor since his first days running for the House of Representatives,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy at the Orthodox Union. “He is a friend and been a critical partner for the advocacy work of the Orthodox Jewish community on issues ranging from Israel’s security and the security of Jewish institutions in the United States, to religious liberty to educational reform, and opportunity to defending the needs of the nonprofit sector.”
In foreign policy, Cantor was a hawk with unwavering support for Israel and hardliner when it came issues regarding Iran.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition called Cantor “an important pro-Israel voice in the House and a leader on security issues, including Iran sanctions.”
Cantor lost the primary challenge to his seat in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District to Dave Brat by 11 percent. He said he will finish out his term, but step down as House Majority leader on July 31.
Cantor has held the seat for 14 years and first as minority whip and then as majority leader has been a staunch and powerful supporter for Jewish issues both domestic and international, despite the liberal beliefs of the majority of American Jews.
Jack Moline, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council said that despite Cantor’s seniority, his exit from the House with not hurt Jewish interests.
“There’s no question that Cantor was extremely strong in supporting Israel, but I don’t think there is a problem with that in the Republican Party. I don’t think his absence is going to make a difference in terms of Republican support for Israel,” he said, adding,
“On the question of our foreign policy outside of Israel including Iran, there are other people in both the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, whose positions mirror those that Mr. Cantor took.”
Moline said Cantor was “out of sync” with “what I would call Jewish value voters, with the overwhelming majority of Jewish voters including, I would contend, Republican Jewish voters. His absence in the House would not mean the loss of a voice for those values:
William Daroff, director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America said, Cantor’s leadership had an impact on many issues including: Israel, charitable tax deduction and Holocaust survivor issues.”
Cantor’s loss came as a surprise to everyone, Cantor included. He had spent $4,867,298 on the race compared to his tea party challenger Brat, who spent $122,792. Some analysts say Cantor had lost touch with his district.
“It seems to me that it was a combination of the politics around immigration as well as some people suggesting that he was very busy with his leadership role and wasn’t tending to his home district as much as he needed to,” Diament told the Washington Jewish Week. “And clearly, unfortunately, his campaign didn’t have a great handle on where they were in the race.”
“[Cantor] didn’t pay enough attention to the district. He ran an all-TV campaign and it should have been an all ground game campaign,” said Steve Rabinowitz, of the Washington-based public relations firm Rabinowitz Communications and a Democratic Party activist. “He bought millions of dollars’ worth of television ads when he should have bought himself a ground game and a field organization.”