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Cantor to resign from Congress Aug. 18
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Cantor to resign from Congress Aug. 18

He asks governor for Nov. 4 special election so winner can take office immediately

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Less than two months after his stunning primary upset and just hours after stepping down as House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor said Thursday that he will resign his seat in the House of Representatives effective Aug. 18.

“I want to make sure that the constituents in the 7th District will have a voice in what will be a very consequential lame-duck session,” Cantor said in an exclusive interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Thursday afternoon.

Cantor said he has asked Gov. Terry McAuliffe to call a special election for his district that coincides with the general election on Nov. 4.

By having a special election in November, the winner would take office immediately, rather than in January with the next Congress.

“That way he will also have seniority, and that will help the interests of my constituents (because) he can be there in that consequential lame-duck session,” Cantor said.

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Cantor’s resignation marks the end of a successful 14-year congressional run that included his role as House majority leader for more than three years and the prospect of becoming the next speaker of the House.

Cantor had not faced a close challenge since he was first elected in 2000. But Dave Brat, an economics professor from Henrico County, toppled the incumbent in a Republican primary on June 10.

Brat was lifted to victory, in part, by a wave of dissatisfaction with Cantor among party activists and a sense among some voters that the congressman was inaccessible.

Brat will face Democrat Jack Trammell, an associate professor and farmer from Louisa County, who teaches at Randolph-Macon College, the same school as his opponent.

Cantor on Thursday reiterated his support of Brat’s election bid.

“I hope he will win,” he said.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Cantor deserves credit for making a “generous gesture” to his district and eventual successor by resigning early.

“At the same time, it’s highly probable that he has a very lucrative deal in the works for his post-Congress life, and he’s eager to get started,” Sabato said.

“The Republicans are nearly guaranteed to retain control of the House of Representatives after November, and a former majority leader with good ties to most of his colleagues is a very valuable commodity,” he said.

On the day after his defeat, Cantor announced that he would step down as House majority leader July 31. He is being succeeded in this office by Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, whom he calls a close friend.

Earlier on Thursday, Cantor used his farewell as House majority leader to lament what he calls a diminished U.S. role in a world that he says is rife with instability and terror.

He also took a sentimental look back at his tenure as a member of Congress.

“Walking into this building and walking onto this floor is something that excited me every day since I was first elected to Congress,” he said. “Not one of us should ever take for granted the awesome honor and responsibility we have to serve our fellow Americans.”

Cantor also touted his legislative accomplishments, including his efforts to expand school choice, make higher education more affordable, advance medical research and innovation, and job creation initiatives.

In the interview, Cantor voiced his frustration with the sometimes slow pace in Congress.

“There is a lot of business that is still to be done,” he said. “I wish that Washington would act quicker.”

McAuliffe said Wednesday that he was “heartsick” over Cantor’s defeat, because coupled with the retirements of Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-10th, and Rep. Jim Moran, D-8th, it represents a significant loss of clout for the state’s congressional delegation.

But Cantor does not seem too concerned.

“We have some very talented people on the Virginia delegation, and it (is) a hard job to represent us and the interest of the commonwealth. I am confident that my colleagues will be able to do that,” he said.

Cantor said Virginia has been “very prudent at the state level” in terms of its fiscal management.

“I think (Virginia) has a bright future ahead. Obviously, the defense part of Virginia’s economy is extremely important, especially in areas like Northern Virginia and to a lesser extent in our area. But I think it does benefit our area and there is a very big focus on growing the economy, not only in the defense arena, but we continuously diversify that economy and create the environment for more jobs and opportunity.”

Cantor did not reveal specific plans for his life after public service.

“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.”

mschmidt@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6537 Twitter: @MSchmidtRTD

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