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What Eric Cantor’s loss might mean to you

Rep. Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican who was defeated in a primary election Tuesday by tea-party challenger Dave Brat, will step down as House Majority Leader.

Cantor’s upset defeat has repercussions far beyond Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, and even far beyond the Beltway. When the second-most-powerful Republican in Congress is taken down by a challenge from within his own party, the political and policy implications are sure to be significant. Here are a few:

1.) Immigration reform

Cantor’s loss probably means any shred of chance for comprehensive immigration reform in the foreseeable future is now gone.

One of Brat’s biggest criticisms of Cantor was that Cantor favored “amnesty” by supporting some sort of path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants. Actually, Politico is reporting that a poll found most of the voters in that district – including most Republicans – favor a plan that would include letting undocumented immigrants without criminal records gain legal status.

Nonetheless, I think the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza is right when he says Cantor’s defeat will make any House Republican who’d been considering supporting some similar reform think again.

Meanwhile, immigration reform activists say Cantor’s loss is the nail in the coffin, and so are urging President Obama to offer deportation relief and other forms of administrative relief immediately.

2.) California’s clout

Cantor was the GOP’s number two in the House; House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, is number three. But Cantor’s loss doesn’t necessarily mean McCarthy’s ascension – a bunch of House Republicans already are jockeying to snap up Cantor’s post.

As both a Californian and a national GOP leader, McCarthy has had to walk a knife-edge on immigration reform; he has called for legal status, though perhaps not citizenship, for undocumented immigrants without criminal records. If Cantor’s loss makes House Republicans gun-shy about speaking up on immigration reform, McCarthy – along with other California Republicans like Jeff Denham and David Valadao – may be in the majority’s minority, and that’s not a great place to be when you’re gunning for a higher party leadership post.

More, after the jump…

3.) Congressional balance of power

Democrats are walkin’ on sunshine. Sure, it’s not as if a Democrat unseated Cantor, but the only thing they like better than a win for their party is watching the GOP tear itself apart.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said Brat’s win will mean the GOP runs “further to the far right with the Tea Party striking fear into the heart of every Republican on the ballot and cementing the dysfunction that has paralyzed this Congress and prevented them from taking any action to help middle class families. … Eric Cantor is the personification of frustration with Washington and House Republicans should be terrified of the backlash from the voters who have been alienated by their race to the right.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, urged the American people to take notice. “Eric Cantor has long been the face of House Republicans’ extreme policies, debilitating dysfunction and manufactured crises. Tonight, is a major victory for the Tea Party as they yet again pull the Republican Party further to the radical right,” she said. “As far as the midterms elections are concerned, it’s a whole new ballgame.”

Israel might be right that Cantor’s loss symbolizes a widespread frustration with Washington, but Pelosi’s “whole new ballgame” rhetoric is a long shot. Given the nation’s political balkanization and gerrymandering, I seriously doubt this gives Democrats any momentum in regaining House seats or keeping the Senate.

4.) All politics are local

Remember, the nation didn’t vote out Eric Cantor, nor did the tea party; Virginia’s 7th District did. The interwebs are abuzz today with reports that many constituents saw Cantor as representing the GOP establishment within the Beltway, not the district. Remember how Eric Swalwell painted Pete Stark as being too long in Washington, too disconnected from his district in 2012? It can be a potent argument, especially in a conservative district like Cantor’s.

5.) Money can’t buy you love

If voters don’t like you, all the money in the world won’t help you. (Paging Meg Whitman…) Cantor had spent more than $5 million as of May 21; Brat had spent about $123,000. Boom. {drops mic}

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.