Tea party activists heckled and booed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) Saturday at a GOP event in the congressman's home district.
Republicans in Virginia's 7th District gathered Saturday at a convention to elect a new committee chairman for the district. According to vote totals by conservative blog The Bold Elephant, incumbent chairman and key Cantor ally Linwood Cobb narrowly lost his reelection bid to tea party-backed Fred Gruber.
Tea party activists touted Gruber's victory as a bellwether of the showdown between Cantor and his primary rival, Dave Brat. An economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, Brat is challenging Cantor from the right, picking up endorsements from a number of conservative groups. As Politico reported last month, Cantor's camp has taken the challenge seriously despite Brat's slim chance of victory.
Speaking at Saturday's event, Cantor called Brat out over "inaccuracies" in his campaigning.
Any sign that Cantor’s support has slipped among the region’s most active Republicans could spell a tougher challenge during next month’s election. And some of the crowd’s reaction Saturday when Cantor took a shot at Brat made clear that the Republican majority leader has not yet fully shored up support.
“When I sit here and I listen to Mr. Brat speak I hear the inaccuracies — my family’s here.” Cantor said. As he was interrupted by the raucous crowd, Cantor’s anger was evident: “That’s enough — we are a country of free speech, so decency’s also part of this.”
Former lieutenant governor Bill Bolling (R), who left the 2013 Virginia governor's race as tea party favorite Ken Cuccinelli's candidacy picked up momentum, said he was "extremely disappointed" in Cobb's defeat as chairman.
“Clearly, there is a battle taking place for the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” he said in a statement, according to the Post.
Virginia's primary will be held June 10.