The Cantors live in a seven-bedroom house in the leafy Richmond suburb of Wyndham, with their three children. Evan, 18, is a freshman at the University of Virginia. Jenna, 16, and Michael, 14, attend Deep Run High School, a public school in nearby Glen Allen. Diana’s mother, Barbara, a staunch Democrat, lives with the family and keeps the home kosher, helping with shopping and cooking.
“I maintain a somewhat kosher lifestyle,” says Cantor, who considers himself a Conservative Jew but worships at Keneseth Beth Israel, an Orthodox congregation in Richmond. “I don’t eat any non-kosher meat or chicken. I’m basically a vegetarian when I eat out.”
Cantor has denied that his faith has had anything to do with his swift rise. But the Republican Party is clearly attempting to expand its base beyond white, male, Christian, Southern and rural voters, and it is doing so in part by literally changing the face of the party. This year, Michael Steele became the first African-American to lead the Republican National Committee. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the son of immigrants from India, has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate. As a Jew, Cantor is a natural to reach out to another important constituency.
“Jewish voters are one segment of an increasingly diverse electorate that we must do a better job of attracting,” says Cantor. “Many older Jews remain unwilling to consider voting for Republicans because many years ago they or their parents may not have felt welcome in the party. This is no longer the case. Jews and Americans of every extraction can find under the GOP umbrella a party very willing to include them.”
As a group, Jews have heavily supported Democrats since the 1930s, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought them into the American mainstream. No recent Republican candidate has been able to match Reagan’s impressive performance in 1980, although the party has spent ample time and resources courting Jews. “To have a Jewish Republican who also fits into the sweet spot of where his party’s ideology is and who’s also extraordinarily attractive and articulate and popular is a big plus,” says Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. “The Republican Party really wants to make additional inroads with the Jews.”