The upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Tuesday could be a boon for Oregon, as Congressman Greg Walden will seek to step up from his current GOP leadership post.
Walden, the lone Republican in Oregon's congressional delegation, could be in the mix for a loftier leadership position after Cantor’s July resignation following his surprise defeat at the hands of a little-known economics professor backed by the Tea Party in this week's Virginia primary election.
Walden easily survived his own Tea Party challenge in Oregon's primary last month.
Walden chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee. He is close to House Speaker John Boehner, who is coming to Oregon for a Walden fundraiser. Walden is friendly with Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, who wasted no time launching his bid to succeed Cantor.
Oregonian political reporter Jeff Mapes says Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the Republican conference — the fourth ranking GOP leadership perch — also is interested in Cantor's former job. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California is next in the leadership pecking order and can be expected to vie to move up.
As the surprise of Cantor's defeat turns into party introspection, some wonder whether Boehner can win re-election as Speaker in the next Congress. Before Cantor's upset loss, the narrative was that establishment Republicans had put Tea Party conservatives in their place. However, that now doesn't appear to be fully the case. In addition to Cantor, veteran Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran faces a primary run-off with a Tea Party-backed candidate, with Cochran in the role of underdog.
How much of a shakeup in the House leadership will be caused by Cantor's defeat is hard to know, but there is a chance Walden could find himself with a new role and more influence over GOP policy directions. That could create new pressures on Walden, who is generally viewed as a Republican moderate, especially at a time when GOP operatives are looking at Monica Wehby, the challenger to incumbent Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, as a prototype of a new kind of Republican candidate.
If immigration reform had any chance of success in this Congress, Cantor's loss punctured any remaining hope. His opponent, David Brat, made Cantor's openness to reform that includes a path to citizenship for existing undocumented workers a central part of his campaign to unseat the former House majority leader.