GLEN ALLEN, Va. — Here in the place that Rep. Eric Cantor calls home, few voters seemed to recognize him as one of their own. Despite Cantor’s rise to the second-most powerful member of his party in the House and for a time a leader of its angry right flank, Republicans here seemed in agreement with Cantor’s challenger who toppled him from power by tarring him as insufficiently conservative on issues including immigration, the federal budget and crony capitalism.
But more than any specific issue, voter after voter had a more fundamental complaint: At a time of deep cynicism about government, they described Cantor as a man who had succumbed to Washington and forgotten where he came from.
And amid the widespread rage of Republican voters at the Obama administration, the line between a leadership position and being sufficiently antagonistic to the White House proved to be impossible for Cantor to navigate.
“People are sick and tired of him — sick and tired of the way government is nowadays,” said David Moffett, 60, who entered a Martin’s market holding a shopping list for milk, salad, chicken and potatoes. “This country needs to get back to the way it was.”
The no-budget campaign of David Brat, the college economics professor who unseated Cantor, spread its message through social media, including a web video of Cantor beside President Barack Obama at the State of the Union address.
To be sure, issues important to the conservative base drove the local Tea Party activists who provided Brat with a de facto campaign structure in the absence of the support of any national conservative groups.
The issue of “amnesty” for immigrants in the U.S. illegally has reignited with grass-roots conservatives, who see in the recent wave of unaccompanied children crossing the Mexican border a direct response to efforts by Obama, as well as some Republicans, to shield some young immigrants from deportation.
The Brat campaign portrayed Cantor as two-faced — opposing a comprehensive immigration overhaul as passed by the Senate, but “telegraphing” that he wants to find a way to let the so-called Dreamers, children brought in illegally by their parents, stay.
Like many places, the 7th Congressional District has a growing Latino population, although it is still small: 5 percent of residents are Hispanic, 77 percent are non-Hispanic whites, 14.5 percent are black and 4 percent are Asian, according to the 2010 census.
Larry Nordvig, executive director of the Richmond Tea Party, said that although a menu of issues drove voters, including immigration, “there was already an undercurrent of ‘anybody but Cantor.’”
Even those who voted for Cantor did not sound terribly upset with the result. They included Spencer, the retired handyman.
“I will say straight up I didn’t agree with everything he does,” he said. “The people in the district have spoken. Mr. Brat is the man in charge now.”