JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Seven-term Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated Tuesday night in the Virginia primary by little known tea party challenger Dave Brat.
And while midterm contests across the country have not gone well for tea party candidates so far, Jacksonville tea party members say the upset may give them the momentum they've been looking for.
"It just affirms what we're doing," said Carol McManus, of the First Coast Tea Party. "We're just ordinary people, and I think a lot of people don't know us. We're just the everyday person who goes to work and school, and we just care about our country."
McManus said Brat's victory is a testament to the grassroots efforts of the tea party. She said she applauds Virginia voters who took their concerns to the ballot box and put tea party ideals in the forefront.
"Maybe more people will realize it's OK to stand up and care about the election process," McManus said.
Cantor, who was the second-most powerful Republican in the House, raised more than $5.4 million for his re-election campaign. Brat, a college professor, had just over $200,000.
Political science expert Matt Corrigan said Brat's victory proves it's not all about the money.
"Whether you like the ideology of the person who won, it sends the message that money and name recognition doesn't win elections," Corrigan said. "There are times when you have to win an election like this."
Corrigan said he expects Brat's win to send shockwaves through Congress, making it more difficult to address controversial issues like immigration reform. He said now, more than ever, tea party members will try to pull Republicans farther to the right, and Brat's win could force Democrats to regroup.
"The tea party is here. They are an important part of the Republican Party," Corrigan said. "But it doesn't mean they are going to take over the Republican Party. They are a strong segment of the Republican Party. There are some that also want to look more moderate as well, so these two are going to be fighting it out."
Tea party-backed Congressmen Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis were both unavailable for comment from Washington D.C. on Wednesday. But local tea party members say Brat's victory in Virginia could be the just beginning of a much larger political movement.
"The people are watching," McManus said. "The people are paying attention."
It's unclear who will take over Cantor's position as House majority leader.
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