By Mike Lillis
November's elections are "a whole new ballgame."
That's the message Democratic leaders are sending in the wake of Tuesday's stunning primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), whose loss to an obscure Tea Party favorite, Dave Brat, has staggered Capitol Hill and launched countless questions about the extent of the fallout.
The Democrats wasted little time using Cantor's loss to portray the Republicans as an extremist party that simply can't be trusted with the House gavel. They're hoping that voters will agree.
“The American people should take notice. Tonight, the Tea Party defeated Republican Leader Eric Cantor who is one of the most extreme Members of Congress," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
“Eric Cantor has long been the face of House Republicans’ extreme policies, debilitating dysfunction and manufactured crises. Tonight, is a major victory for the Tea Party as they yet again pull the Republican Party further to the radical right," she added.
“As far as the midterms elections are concerned, it’s a whole new ballgame.”
Other Democratic leaders piled on, with Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), warning that Cantor's loss to the more conservative Brat foreshadows a new era of congressional "dysfunction" – if Republicans are left in charge.
"We all saw how far outside the mainstream this Republican Congress was with Eric Cantor at the helm, now we will see them run further to the far right with the Tea Party striking fear into the heart of every Republican on the ballot and cementing the dysfunction that has paralyzed this Congress and prevented them from taking any action to help middle class families," Israel said in a statement.
Israel used Cantor's defeat to draw stark distinctions between the Republicans' policy priorities and those of the Democrats. He portrayed his party as the voice of "mainstream" Americans and predicted that House Republicans will suffer a "backlash" from independent voters "alienated" by the GOP's "race to the right."
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), head of the Democratic National Committee, echoed that message in a statement of her own.
"Tonight's result in Virginia settles the debate once and for all - the Tea Party has taken control of the Republican Party. Period," she said. "When Eric Cantor, who time and again has blocked common sense legislation to grow the middle class, can't earn the Republican nomination, it's clear the GOP has redefined 'far right.'"
Cantor, a seven-term conservative, rode a Tea Party wave to power during Obama's tenure in the White House and was widely considered to be in line for the House speakership.
His loss to Brat on Tuesday stunned Capitol Hill and leaves countless open questions about both the future of the Republicans' leadership structure and the willingness of party leaders to take on tough issues like immigration reform.
This post was updated at 11:40 p.m.