Eric Cantor, leading advocate for Jewish issues in Congress, suffers stunning defeat

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) speaks at the 2011 Union for Reform Judaism biennial convention. Credit: Courtesy Union for Reform Judaism.
U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) speaks at the 2011 Union for Reform Judaism biennial convention. Credit: Courtesy Union for Reform Judaism.

Following Tuesday’s stunning primary defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives and the House majority leader, both non-partisan Jewish groups and those on each side of the political aisle 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 [has] 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 [the] opportunity to defend the needs of the nonprofit sector.”

On the foreign policy front, the representative for Virginia’s 7th congressional district is known for his unwavering support for Israel and hardline stance when it comes to the Iranian nuclear issue. 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 to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat by 11 percent. He has held the congressional seat for 14 years—first as minority whip and then as majority leader, a position from which he plans to step down on July 31.

William Daroff, senior vice president of public policy and director of the Washington Office of the Jewish Federations of North America, said Cantor’s leadership was impactful on many issues of importance to the Jewish community, including Israel, charitable tax deductions, and Holocaust survivor issues.

Jack Moline, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said that despite Cantor’s high-ranking position in the House, his exit would not hurt Jewish interests. Cantor plans to step down as majority leader on July 31.

“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,” said Moline.

“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,” he added.

Cantor’s loss came as a surprise to everyone—Cantor included. He had spent $4,867,298 on the race, while Brat spent just $122,792. Some analysts say Cantor was defeated because of the perception that he 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 “And clearly, unfortunately, his campaign didn’t have a great handle on where they were in the race.”

Jewish Democratic activist Steve Rabinowitz, head of the Washington, DC-based public relations firm Rabinowitz Communications, said Cantor “ran an all-TV campaign and it should have been an all-ground game campaign.”

“He bought millions of dollars’ worth of television ads when he should have bought himself a ground game and a field organization,” said Rabinowitz.

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