Rep. Eric Cantor (R)
Virginia 7th District
In the center of Virginia, on a hill in downtown Richmond above the James River, is Thomas Jefferson’s Capitol, one of the first classical-style buildings in North America, chaste and simple in the Jefferson style. A mile or so west is Monument Avenue, Richmond’s grand 140-foot-wide boulevard, punctuated by circles, each with a statue of a Confederate hero—Robert E. Lee (62 feet tall, dedicated Memorial Day 1890), Jeb Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Matthew Fountain Maury, “the Pathfinder of the Sea.” Richmond itself is a monument to Jefferson and to the Confederacy. Its metropolitan area is only the third largest in the state, but it still sets the tone for Virginia. It is home to many of the state’s great institutions—Dominion Resources, Main Street banks, big law firms, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Richmond’s metro area has grown far past its city borders, covering almost all of suburban Henrico and Chesterfield counties and spreading into what was until recently countryside. For many years, Richmond was riven by racial differences. In the 1950s, Virginia’s leaders gathered in Richmond and called for massive resistance to desegregation. When Richmond elected its first black-majority City Council in the 1970s, the outgoing Council deeded the statue of Lee to the state for fear it would be torn down. Now Richmond has come to a better place. African-Americans have been a majority in the city for two decades now, and in 1989 Virginia elected a black governor, Douglas Wilder, who grew up on Church Hill in a segregated neighborhood overlooking the Capitol. In 2005, Wilder made a triumphant return as mayor, elected by a biracial majority. When he stepped down in January 2009, the Times-Dispatch wrote that he had “spent his term trying to deliver his vision for an office he helped create—a strong mayor under a new form of government.” A statue of Richmond-born African-American tennis champion Arthur Ashe has been added to Monument Avenue. Richmond has been thriving economically with banking, securities, and health care corporate offices and the Philip Morris headquarters. Politically, the city is solidly Democratic. Henrico, Chesterfield and the counties beyond are heavily Republican.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 7th Congressional District of Virginia includes some city precincts and most of the area surrounding Richmond. The black precincts in the city and Henrico County are mostly in the black-majority 3rd District. The 7th District extends past President James Madison’s home at Montpelier to fast-growing Spotsylvania and Culpeper counties and as far north as Rappahannock County and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Like many other affluent and growing areas, some of these locales have been struggling with illegal immigration. The 7th is 17% African-American and 80% of its votes are cast in metro Richmond. This is one of the two most Republican districts in Virginia. George W. Bush twice won 61% of the vote here. In 2008, GOP presidential nominee John McCain beat Barack Obama 53%-46%. (However, Obama took the Henrico County suburbs by 679 votes of 116,000 cast.)
Rep. Eric Cantor (R)
Elected: 2000, 5th term.
Born: June 6, 1963, Richmond .
Education: George Washington U., B.A. 1985, Col. of William & Mary, J.D. 1988, Columbia U., M.S., 1989.
Family: Married (Diana); 3 children.
Elected office: VA House of Del., 1991-2000.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1990-2000.
The congressman from the 7th District is Eric Cantor, a Republican first elected in 2000 who has risen through the ranks to become the Republican whip, the second-ranking post in the House minority leadership. He grew up in Henrico County, graduated from George Washington University and from William and Mary’s law school. He also got a master’s degree in real estate from Columbia University, and practiced law in his family’s real estate firm in Richmond. In 1991, he was elected to the first of five terms in Virginia’s House of Delegates. In the Legislature, Cantor was a leading ally of business, sponsoring a bill to limit the liability of Philip Morris in a Florida court decree and opposing restrictions on telemarketers. When GOP Rep. Tom Bliley announced his retirement in 2000, after six years as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Cantor entered the race to succeed him. Cantor had interned for Bliley in college, served as Bliley’s campaign chairman and had the backing of his political organization. Still, he faced a serious contest in the Republican primary from state Sen. Stephen Martin, who emphasized his humble background and had a solid base of social and religious conservatives. Their contest turned negative. Cantor attacked Martin for supporting a back-door pay raise for legislators, and Martin questioned Cantor’s business dealings. Cantor put on a substantial advertising campaign. Martin raised less than $200,000, a quarter of what Cantor spent in the primary. Cantor won the primary by only 263 votes. He got 74% of the vote in Henrico, while Martin got 77% in his Chesterfield County base. In the general election, Cantor won 67%-33%, assuming the seat that Madison once held.
|Eric Cantor (R)||233,531||(63%)||($3,823,907)|
|Anita Hartke (D)||138,123||(37%)||($63,152)|
|Eric Cantor (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (64%), 2004 (75%), 2002 (69%), 2000 (67%)
In the House, Cantor has been reliably conservative in the Richmond tradition. His first bill provided a tax credit of $1,000 per child for parents of school-age children until they graduate from high school. He backed cuts in corporate taxes to spur economic growth, and in 2007 he opposed tax increases on hedge funds and private equity firms. Drawing a parallel between the 2008 energy crisis and the labor and transportation shortage during World War II, he said that Americans needed to “harken back” to those days of nationwide collaboration. He supported all forms of energy development to achieve energy independence by 2025. Cantor is the only Jewish House Republican. With his knowledge of the Middle East and his strong support for Israel, he chaired the Republican task force on terrorism and unconventional warfare, and he praised President George W. Bush as more committed to Israel than any other president. In 2007, Cantor warned that anti-Semitism—including “Holocaust denial” —was increasing around the world and was a danger “for all people.”
But his more significant activity occurred outside the public spotlight as a member of the Republican leadership team. His efforts to assure support for Republican initiatives impressed House leaders and led to a meteoric rise to leadership. In December 2002, incoming Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., named Cantor as his chief deputy whip, giving him a seat at the party’s leadership table and handing him the often thankless task of tracking his colleagues’ sentiments on pending legislation. Cantor also won a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, where he was a booster of the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill and is an active proponent of health savings accounts.
When Blunt ran against John Boehner of Ohio to replace Texan Tom DeLay as majority leader in early 2006, Cantor backed Blunt and built an aggressive campaign to replace him as whip if Blunt won the contest. But Blunt lost to Boehner and remained as whip. Cantor had pledged not to challenge Blunt for the whip’s post and kept his word. Arguably, Cantor’s decision served the interests of both men. Blunt remained in leadership for another two years, which prepared him to run for a Senate seat in Missouri in 2010, while Cantor earned additional chits in his continued move up the leadership ladder. He was also able to rebuild his relationship with Boehner after backing his opponent in the leadership contest. In 2007, Cantor became finance chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, a testament to his prodigious fundraising skills. Cantor raised more money for Republican candidates for the House than anyone else except for Boehner. With Reps. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Cantor created the Young Guns to identify and finance conservatives and “new blood” candidates for the House, in tandem with the NRCC.
Cantor’s political rise was accompanied by his enthusiastic salesmanship for GOP presidential nominee John McCain during the 2008 campaign, when he was among McCain’s most outspoken backers in Congress. He embraced McCain’s centrist approach on issues such as global warming and immigration, and his more conservative views on national security. As chairman of the 2008 Victory Jewish Coalition, Cantor also was an aggressive fundraiser for McCain. Later, he was reported to be among McCain’s finalists for vice president.
After the party’s dismal showing in 2008 and Blunt’s decision to step down as Republican whip, Cantor was selected to replace him without opposition. In January 2009, he moved quickly to establish his mark as a leader of the loyal opposition to President Obama’s programs. With Boehner’s encouragement, Cantor prepared an alternative to the Democrats’ $787 billion economic stimulus plan, which he said would create twice as many jobs at half the cost. In part because of Cantor’s efforts as whip, all House Republicans opposed Obama’s stimulus plan when it came to a vote on the House floor. Also in 2009, Cantor, with Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, led a Republican working group to focus on waste, fraud and abuse in the spending of the stimulus money. And he was among the first Republicans to voice specific doubts about Democratic proposals on the federal budget, reform of the financial services industry, and expanded health-care coverage.
Cantor also has been deeply involved in party efforts to rebrand itself after two consecutive disappointing elections in 2006 and 2008. Modeling himself after former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who led his party to take control of the House in 1994, Cantor’s aggressive style has earned him the enmity of House Democrats, who derisively dubbed him “Dr. No” and accused him of spoiling any hope for bipartisanship in Obama’s first months. Unfazed, Cantor rallied his deputy whips to begin focusing on fundraising for the 2010 congressional elections. In May 2009, Cantor launched the National Council for a New America to spotlight Republican alternatives to Obama’s proposals. The group’s agenda rollout attracted McCain and possible 2012 hopefuls, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. But the group’s policy statements made no mention of social issues, leading social conservatives such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another potential contender in 2012, to criticize their approach to expanding the Republican tent.
With his active media presence and beefed-up press staff, Cantor has increased his public profile and is a strong possibility for future statewide office. At home, Cantor has faced only nominal opposition since his 2000 election but has raised more than $13 million. In the 2008 election, he spent $3.8 million against Anita Hartke, the Culpeper County Democratic chairman who raised just $75,000 and was hoping for a Democratic surge. Cantor largely ignored her and won 63%-37%.