Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor dropped a bomb Thursday when he announced that he’s not only stepping down from his leadership role, but quitting Congress altogether, raising questions about what’s next for the 7th District Republican—and how quickly his successor might assume office.
Cantor suffered a surprise defeat in the June primary when he was bested by the Tea Party-favored Dave Brat, who will face Democrat Jack Trammell in the November election. In a speech on the floor and in an op-ed in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Cantor, 51, said he won’t serve out his term, and will leave August 18. Cantor said he asked Governor Terry McAuliffe to hold a special election on the November 4 general election day, allowing the victor to take office immediately, rather than waiting until January.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at UVA, said Cantor’s early resignation will give his successor seniority in the House, allowing the 7th District to install a new representative ahead of Congress’ lame-duck session.
It’s not clear what Cantor’s next move is, but Sabato said it will likely be lucrative.
“It’s perfectly obvious that he and his wife want to move on,” he said. “[Cantor’s future resides] clearly in the private sector, whether it’s in D.C. or on Wall Street. The only thing I do know is he’s going to be very, very well paid… He’s a very valuable commodity”
In an op-ed published in the Richmond-Times Dispatch, Cantor reiterated his support of the Republican candidate who supplanted him, Dave Brat, and voiced his frustration with the slow pace of Washington. The farewell address itself, recorded by the Associated Press, bemoaned what Cantor called a diminished U.S. role in a world rife with “instability and terror.” He cited problems in the Middle East and tensions with Iran and Russia as took aim at the U.S. foreign policy, saying that the U.S. must “make leadership abroad a priority.”
Cantor did not reveal any specific plans for his career after Congress. “My wife and I are sort of going to make those kind of decisions, and I do think they are best made as private citizens,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to being a very active member in that democratic system and advocate for the cause that I believe in.”
What happens in November?
Sabato explained that, if the Governor approves the special election, the candidates’ names will appear on two ballots on November 4: one for the special election and one for the general election. The elections would take place concurrently, and the winner would take office as soon as the State Board of Elections officially confirms the results.
In the unlikely event that the two elections produce different victors, the winner of the special election would serve until the start of the new Congressional term in January, at which time he would cede the position to the winner of the general election. While winners of concurrent special and general elections have differed in the past, Sabato said a split was historically “very, very rare.”