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Fact-checking claims about the defeat of House No. 2 Eric Cantor
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, lost a primary election to David Brat, a relatively unknown economics professor on June 10, 2014. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, lost a primary election to David Brat, a relatively unknown economics professor on June 10, 2014.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, lost a primary election to David Brat, a relatively unknown economics professor on June 10, 2014.

Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders June 18, 2014

The defeat of Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican seen as a future Speaker of the House, stunned the political establishment. Pundits took to national TV to sort out how a better-funded, party-backed candidate could lose to little-known college professor Dave Brat.

PunditFact examined three of their claims in the fallout.

Cantor and money

Chuck Todd, host of MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, nailed one popular factoid about Cantor’s lopsided financial advantage on his show.

"Cantor's campaign spent more at steak houses than Brat spent on his entire campaign," Todd said.

His claim rates True. The comparison emerged in the New York Times before taking off on Twitter ("High steaks politics" and "Where’s the beef") and at Rolling Stone magazine, which quipped "Eric Cantor: Burned at the steakhouse."

Campaign finance data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics shows Cantor spent $168,000 on fundraising events at three Virginia restaurants -- Bobby Van’s Grill, Bobby Van's Steakhouse, and Blt Steak.

On the other hand, Brat spent a little less than $123,000 for his entire campaign, according to campaign finance reports that cover spending up until May 21, 2014.

All told, Cantor outspent Brat more than 40 to 1 and still lost by 10 percentage points.

Cantor and immigration

What could beat a big campaign checkbook? Some said it was a big issue.

Cantor’s position on immigration reform is not entirely solid. At one point he tried to beat back attacks from Brat characterizing him as soft on immigration by sending a mailer that took credit for "stopping the (President Barack) Obama-(Sen. Harry) Reid plan to give illegal immigrants amnesty" (an assertion that is Mostly False).

One national pundit was credited for helping Brat amplify his attacks like no other: conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. Appearing on ABC This Week the Sunday after his primary defeat, Ingraham continued to berate Cantor’s immigration stance.

"Eric Cantor wrote, he was the co-author of the House GOP principles on immigration reform," she said. "Both the New York Times and the Washington Post said that that captured the essence of what was in the Senate immigration bill."

Ingraham is referring to a one-page document that emerged at a Maryland retreat for House GOP members in late January 2014. Drafted by House leaders, which included Cantor as the second-ranking House Republican, it was quickly shelved due to its poor reception among rank-and-filers.

The memo listed border security as a top principle for immigration reform. But the turn-off for some GOP members was at the bottom: a vague avenue for people to remain in the country legally "only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits)."

Drama over the document’s release and reception generated plenty of news coverage and editorials, partly for its poor reception. But Ingraham erred in saying that mainstream coverage of the principles equated it with the Senate bill, which provided a 13-year route to citizenship. Most coverage from those newspapers labeled it as a potential blueprint for negotiations with the Senate, highlighting the GOP’s document lack of a citizenship option -- a priority of Obama and others.

We rated her claim Half True.

Cantor and the rest of the GOP

Cantor is special to the GOP for another reason: his faith.

There are 33 Jews in the House and Senate, but Cantor is the only Republican.

"Now there are no non-Christian Republicans. This is an amazing fact," said liberal HBO host Bill Maher said June 13. "There are 278 Republicans in Congress. They are now all Christian and all white except for one black senator who was appointed. So this is an entirely Christian, white party."

Without question, the Democrats have the edge in religious and racial diversity as the home of all but one of the 44 black members, all 13 Asian members, and most of the 37 Hispanic  or Latino members, as well as a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslims and a Unitarian Universalist (and a "none").

But the GOP is not as homogenous as Maher suggests.

Most of the members are either Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox -- traditional branches of Christianity. A dozen GOP officials are Mormon, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is considered a non-traditional branch.

Maher’s statement overlooks the backgrounds of Cuban-American Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, plus eight more senators and representatives who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino -- not to mention two House members from Oklahoma who belong to American Indian tribes.

Then there’s this big point: Cantor may have lost, but he ain’t out yet. He will not leave office until January 2015, when his replacement and potentially other non-white and non-Christian members are sworn in. Maher’s point really does not apply in the present and may not when Cantor leaves.

We rated this statement Half True.

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Fact-checking claims about the defeat of House No. 2 Eric Cantor