House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who suffered a stunning defeat in a Virginia GOP primary last week, kept a date to headline a big-ticket private fundraiser in the Hamptons Saturday that raised more than $100,000 for state Sen. Lee Zeldin's campaign in Suffolk's 1st Congressional District.
"As we all know, Eric has had a bad week. But he has been great at handling it," said Jerry Levin, the businessman who hosted the event at his gated estate in Quiogue.
In the morning, Cantor, who will give up his post next month as the No. 2 House Republican, spoke before nearly 300 congregants at the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach.
He did not directly address his loss Tuesday to David Brat, a little-known, lightly funded tea party opponent. But he told worshippers at the synagogue that he was "optimistic for the future" and spoke of his faith. "The true test for all of us is to endure and remember our higher calling, not only as Americans but as Jews," he said.
Cantor is the House's only Jewish Republican, and Zeldin (R-Shirley) -- who faces a June 24 GOP primary from George Demos, a former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney -- is one of the few Jewish candidates running for Congress as Republicans this year.
Cantor, who did not take questions from reporters, later spent 90 minutes discussing domestic and foreign policy, along with national and local politics, at Levin's home. A former chairman of Revlon, Burger King and Sharper Image, Levin since 1992 has run J.W. Levin Partners LLC, a management and investment firm. Levin and his wife, Carol, have contributed nearly $190,000 to Democratic and Republican candidates alike.
Tickets for the fundraiser, which Zeldin described as the most successful of his campaign, ranged from $500 to $5,200. Campaign finance filings Thursday showed that Zeldin has been outspent 2-to-1 by Demos and had only about half as much cash in hand. The winner will face Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) in November.
Cantor discussed the need to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, cut the federal deficit, protect Israel and elect conservative Republicans, including Zeldin, who will "preserve liberty and promote opportunity," Zeldin said.
Zeldin acknowledged there also are lessons to be learned from Cantor's defeat.
"It's important to spend as much time as you can in your congressional district," Zeldin said. "As majority leader, you inadvertently miss a lot of events in your district . . . There was a desire in his district to try and send a message to Washington."
Zeldin also indicated he was unconcerned that he uses the same pollster as Cantor, John McLaughlin, who concluded that Cantor was ahead by huge margins before his loss.
Zeldin noted that Virginia has open primaries, allowing Democrats to also cast ballots, potentially skewing the vote and making the job of a pollster difficult. "The only poll that matters is the one that's taken by voters on June 24," he said. Demos' and Bishop's campaigns both issued statements criticizing the Cantor-Zeldin tie.
"It's shocking that Lee Zeldin thinks we Long Islanders would support a candidate who is controlled by Washington establishment politicians like Eric Cantor," Demos said.
"Both Cantor and Zeldin are tea party conservatives pretending to be moderates, and the voters of our district won't be fooled," said Bishop campaign spokesman Keith Davies.
Zeldin fired back at Bishop for sending out a fundraising notice citing Cantor's defeat and said Demos was "desperate to get elected and will do anything to score another vote."