The new minority whip is the highest ranking Jewish Republican in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Not long ago, Eric Cantor wouldn’t have been recognized if he strolled outside the U.S. Capitol grounds. But now the 45-year-old minority whip and only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives has become the face of Republican opposition to the White House.
Photographs of the conservative congressman from Virginia were splashed on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers in February after he helped keep all 178 House GOP members from voting for President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package. That feat, as rare as pitching a no-hitter, won the grudging admiration of the acerbic New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who wrote that “somehow the most well-known person on the planet lost control of the economic message to someone named Eric Cantor.”
Since entering the House in 2001, Cantor has been the consummate party insider. His climb—he was appointed chief deputy whip at the end of his first term and last November was elected whip, a position recently held by the likes of Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay—has been meteoric. While his detractors complain that he is a partisan divider, his supporters hope that Cantor, who occupies the highest position of any Jewish Republican in the history of the House, is the Moses who will lead the GOP back to the Promised Land.
Cantor was born on June 6, 1963, into an affluent family in the West End of Richmond, a neighborhood with two Jewish country clubs and two delis. He grew up in a traditional, kosher—and solidly Republican—home.
His parents sent him to the Collegiate School, an elite private school in Richmond, where attendance at Christian chapel services was required, as was participation in Christmas pageants. “It was my parents’ choice to send me to a private school, and I think it made me realize who I am and allowed me to identify that much more with the Jewish faith,” Cantor says in his buttery soft Southern accent.