RICHMOND, Va. – After a stunning primary election loss, former Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Friday that he will resign his seat in the House months earlier than expected.
The congressman will step down Aug. 18 and has asked Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to call a special election to enable his successor to take office immediately, Cantor said in a statement, a day after stepping down from his leadership post.
"It has been the highest honor of my professional life to serve the people of Virginia's 7th District in Congress," Cantor said. "That is why it is with tremendous gratitude and a heavy heart that I have decided to resign from Congress."
The move – first reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch – came as a surprise, as the Republican had previously said he would serve out his term and try to help GOP candidates win elections this fall.
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said Friday the governor's office was reviewing the request for a special election.
According to House rules, Cantor's office will stay open and his staffers will be able to continue to handle constituent services under supervision of the House clerk.
Cantor, a major fundraiser with close ties to big business and Wall Street, did not say in his statement or a guest column in the newspaper what he plans to do after leaving Congress. He said only that he wants to advocate as a private citizen "for the conservative solutions to the problems we face that will secure our nation's greatness and provide a better life for all Americans."
Cantor said a special election on Nov. 4, the same day as the scheduled regular election, would give the winner seniority rather than waiting until January to take office with the new Congress. He also noted that special election on the same day as the scheduled general election would not cost taxpayers extra.
Cantor lost to Dave Brat, an underfunded, tea party-backed opponent, in the June Republican primary. The 7th District is heavily Republican and Brat is considered the early favorite against Democrat Jack Trammell.
"It is vitally important that the constituents have a clear and strong voice during the consequential lame duck session of Congress," Cantor said. "I believe and hope that voice will be Dave Brat."
Brat, who was highly critical of Cantor during the primary campaign, thanked his former opponent for his endorsement.
"The time one has to sacrifice to be an elected official is enormous, and he has sacrificed a great deal to serve the people," Brat said in a statement Friday.
Cantor's resignation could force the candidates to devote some time during the campaign to preparing to take office immediately. Incoming congressman usually have more than two months to prepare to take office, including making staffing decisions.