RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor faces a challenge from a political newcomer backed by the tea party as Virginia voters go to the polls Tuesday for three congressional primaries.
Polls close at 7 p.m. for two Republican primaries and a seven-way Democratic battle for an open seat in northern Virginia.
Economics professor Dave Brat is seeking to topple Cantor in the 7th District while Anthony Riedel, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, wages a longshot battle against Rep. Rob Wittman in eastern Virginia's 2nd District. Former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer leads a crowded field for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Moran in northern Virginia's 8th District.
Cantor was once popular in the tea party but has now become its target, with Brat leading a chorus of critics branding the incumbent as a Beltway insider who has lost touch with his conservative base at home. Cantor - who has outspent Brat by at least 5-to-1, according to the most recent campaign finance reports - has portrayed the challenger as too liberal for Virginia and touted his own opposition to many of President Barack Obama's policies.
Tiffs between the GOP's establishment and tea party factions have flared since tea party favorite Ken Cuccinelli lost last year's gubernatorial race. Cantor supporters have met with stiff resistance in trying to wrest control of the state party away from tea party enthusiasts, including in the majority leader's Richmond-area home district, where Brat supporters booed the incumbent at a party convention last month.
Cantor, a former state legislator, was elected to Congress in 2000. He became majority leader in 2011.
Beyer, a Volvo dealer who served two terms as lieutenant governor before losing the governor's race in 1997, has received the backing of several Obama administration officials in his bid for the nomination in a Democratic stronghold in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Obama carried the district with 68 percent of the vote on 2012, and the Democratic nominee will be heavily favored over Republican Micah Edmond in the general election.
Two state lawmakers, Del. Patrick Hope and Sen. Adam Ebbin, are among the other candidates for the nomination. They are joined by radio talk show host and constitutional attorney Mark Levine, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, former Northern Virginia Urban League President Lavern Chatman and Virginia Tech professor Derek Hyra.
Wittman, a former state legislator elected to Congress in 2007, could virtually wrap up another term with a victory over the little-known and under-funded Riedel, who has never held public office. There is no announced Democrat running in the general election.