(CNN) — In what’s being called a political “earthquake,” the No. 2 Republican in the House, Eric Cantor, lost his primary on Tuesday to a college professor and tea party neophyte.
Cantor conceded the race with 99% of precincts reporting from the Richmond-area district showing him trailing Dave Brat 56% to 44%, according to the Virginia Secretary of State’s website. Turnout was low.
“Obviously we came up short,” Cantor said in his concession speech.
“It’s disappointing, sure, but I believe in this country. I believe there is opportunity around the next corner for all of us,” said Cantor, whose loss is all the more shocking because he’s considered very conservative.
Mark Preston, CNN’s executive political editor, said the defeat would have national implications since he has been viewed as ambitious and a potential House speaker.
“This came out of nowhere,” Preston said.
CNN Political Analyst David Gergen called it an “earthquake” that would “send shockwaves through the Republican ranks.”
A boost for the right
Brat’s victory is another tea party blockbuster, reminiscent of its banner year in 2010 when those conservatives swept Republicans to control of the House.
Most recently, Republican candidate Chris McDaniel in Mississippi gained more votes than longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran and forced a runoff, which McDaniel is expected to win.
CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash said the outcome in Cantor’s race will re-energize the tea party fueled right and disrupt attempts to bridge gaps between arch conservatives and establishment Republicans in Congress.
It could also cloud any prospects the White House and moderates might have for any legislative gains, Bash said.
“This will throw it all up in the air,” Bash noted.
Most Republicans view Cantor, 51, as the most conservative member in the House leadership. Two sources familiar with the thinking of House Speaker John Boehner told Bash that it is now less likely with Cantor out of the picture that he will retire.
Voters rose up
Although Cantor dramatically outspent Brat in a race most political observers anticipated he would win, the cash advantage didn’t affect the outcome.
CNN Crossfire host Newt Gingrich suggested that a large part of Cantor’s constituency in Virginia’s reliably conservative 7th Congressional District concluded that he wasn’t listening and rose up to toss him out.
Losing, Gingrich said, was by no means the end of his political career, noting that he has a “great record,” is a hard worker and could come back, if he wants too down the road.
Cantor was President Barack Obama’s chief foil in budget negotiations in 2011, a role he proudly pointed out during this campaign season.
Promised a shocker
Brat, who predicted a shocker on Tuesday, is an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College outside Richmond as his Democratic opponent in November, Jack Trammell. Trammell was nominated at a party convention.
In a phone interview with CNN on Monday, Brat argued that Cantor was more attentive to donors in New York and California and big business groups than he is to enacting an agenda based on Republican ideals.
“While he’s got an eye on the speaker job, he’s turned his back on his constituents,” Brat said.
He noted that Cantor and other GOP leaders have dropped their free market principles and not done enough to address looming deficit problems.
Brat attempted to frame his challenge as another case of a grassroots conservative taking on the GOP establishment, a major theme in Republican contests this year.
He has tried to make immigration reform the central issue, and said Cantor’s position would hurt the economy.
Brat said Cantor’s campaign ads actually elevated his name and helped his low-budget campaign, which was supported by some heavyweights in conservative media.