Immigration may have cost Majority Leader Eric Cantor his election. His defeat almost certainly dooms the issue in the House.
Cantor, was supposed to cruise to victory in Tuesday's Republican primary over Dave Brat, an underfunded political novice who is an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College.
The only question was how wide Cantor's winning margin would be. Immigration advocates were watching intently, hoping that if it was big enough, Cantor would feel free to green-light action on immigration legislation in the House of Representatives.
Instead Cantor lost, decisively, after a campaign in which Brat made immigration the central issue. Brat accused Cantor of embracing ''amnesty'' and open borders, signed an anti-immigration pledge, and got assists in recent weeks from conservative figures popular with tea party voters such as radio host Laura Ingraham and columnist Ann Coulter, who labeled Cantor ''amnesty-addled.''
Cantor fought back, boasting in strongly worded fliers mailed to voters of shutting down plans to grant ''amnesty'' to ''illegal aliens'' - a changed tone for a lawmaker who'd spoken out in favor of citizenship for immigrants brought illegally to this country as youths.
He hardened his stance on the policy, moving to block House action last month on a Republican-authored measure offering citizenship to certain immigrants here illegally who serve in the military.
It wasn't enough.
After a primary election season in which immigration had barely registered, the outcome suggested that it can still be a potent political issue for Republican primary voters.
And Cantor's loss almost certainly ended whatever slim hopes remained for a deal on immigration in the House this year, likely putting the issue on ice until after the 2016 presidential election.
''It's really dead now,'' said Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA, a group that opposes comprehensive immigration legislation. Immigration ''has been pronounced dead many times over the last two years, but I think the voters of Cantor's district have sent an incredible message.''
Some immigration advocates and pollsters cautioned it was too soon to say whether immigration was the deciding factor for Cantor. David Winston, a pollster who advises House Republicans, said that had Cantor known he was truly threatened, he would have campaigned differently, possibly producing a different outcome. Instead, Cantor's internal polling had shown him comfortably ahead.
''Was that the key issue? We don't know because the candidate never thought he was in a race,'' Winston said.
Immigration advocates also noted that