- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2014

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor heads into the Virginia Republican primary Tuesday as a heavy favorite to survive a tea party challenge in a race that has become dominated by immigration.

It’s a thorny issue for Mr. Cantor, who is facing attacks from his left and right flanks for his stance, which would allow young illegal immigrants to gain legal status but leave their parents’ situations unclear.

College professor David Brat said that by supporting legal status, Mr. Cantor is backing “amnesty.”

Mr. Cantor rejects the amnesty claim. Although he hasn’t backed down from his plan to offer legal status to younger illegal immigrants, he has bragged to voters that he helped stop an even broader Senate bill that would have granted a full pathway to citizenship to most illegal immigrants.

Immigration isn’t the only issue at play in the race, but it’s certainly a main topic, said Dan Palazzolo, head of the University of Richmond’s political science department.

“It’s played out in a lot of primaries — every Republican politician who’s attempted to come near the issue has been attacked from the right,” Mr. Palazzolo said.

SEE ALSO: Pro-immigration protesters storm Rep. Eric Cantor’s condo

Mr. Cantor is, indeed, somewhere in the middle on the issue, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

“It’s laughable to refer to him as an immigration hawk, but he’s not an ideologically committed immigration expansionist either,” Mr. Krikorian said. “Immigration is something he needs to finesse.”

Mr. Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College just north of Richmond, has ridden the immigration issue to win support from national figures including conservative commentators Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, but he also has consistently acknowledged the improbability of unseating the House majority leader, who won nearly 80 percent of the vote when he turned aside a primary challenger two years ago.

Mr. Cantor had $1.5 million on hand through May 21, compared with about $84,000 for Mr. Brat.

Each side claimed late momentum, with Brat campaign manager Zac Werrell saying the “conversion rate” of switching supporters from Mr. Cantor to Mr. Brat is something he has never seen.

Mr. Werrell said immigration always has been a hot-button issue in the campaign but that Mr. Cantor’s changing positions on a measure to allow some illegal immigrants to serve in the military “has made it obvious that Eric Cantor blows any way the wind does.”

Cantor campaign spokesman Ray Allen dismissed the charges, saying Mr. Cantor has held firm in supporting limited legalization but opposing the plan President Obama and Senate Democrats want.

“No matter what the facts are on the ground, he’s just gotten more extreme,” Mr. Allen said of Mr. Brat. “He’s just come unhinged. This too shall pass.”

Mr. Krikorian said regardless of the outcome, the race already has sent a message to Republicans on immigration.

“If [Brat] comes even close to winning, amnesty is not only dead, but Cantor might have a hard time getting elected speaker,” he said.

Democrats late Sunday nominated John “Jack” Trammell, who is also a Randolph-Macon professor. But the contours of the Republican-leaning district, which stretches from the state capital to the Shenandoah Valley, means the winner of the Cantor-Brat contest will start out as the overwhelming favorite in the general election contest.

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