Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) (Steve Helber/AP)

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said he was “heartsick” and “devastated” when outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost the Republican primary to a relatively unknown tea party-backed challenger because of what the loss means for Virginia’s standing in Congress.

For the first time Wednesday, McAuliffe praised Cantor and his staff as allies, even though Cantor represents a very red district that will likely stay in GOP hands in November.

“I’m heartsick that Eric Cantor lost. I will say this as a Democrat. I had as governor the house majority leader about to be speaker,” McAuliffe said during his monthly appearance on D.C. area radio station WTOP. “My staff dealt with Eric Cantor’s staff all the time. I dealt with Congressman and Leader Cantor all the time, they were nothing but helpful. That’s an important asset in my toolbox for me to do what I need to do as governor.”

The impending retirements of Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and James P. Moran (D-Va.) will further erode Virginia’s clout and ability to draw down appropriations in Congress, he said.

“D or R, this is about how I compete, how do I compete against those other 49 states,” McAuliffe said. “I’ll be the first to tell you I was devastated the night Eric Cantor lost. We lost the House majority leader. We’ve never had a speaker in Virginia history; I would love Eric Cantor to have become speaker.”

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the outgoing House majority leader, announced Friday that he will leave Congress on August 18, months earlier than expected. (Reuters)

David Brat, an economics professor, won the GOP nomination in a surprise victory last month and will face Democrat Jack Trammell, a professor at the same college, in November.

Connecting Cantor’s loss to his signature issue — jobs and the economy — McAuliffe said he can work with Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to avoid the rumored deactivation of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which represents 30,000 jobs, but said Cantor would have had influence as well.

“Sometimes you just shake your head,” he said.

Republicans took McAuliffe’s comments as a slight against Trammell.

“I’m just surprised McAuliffe has already given up on Jack Trammell and wonder which Democrat candidate is next,” state GOP spokesman Garren Shipley said after the radio show.

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy defended the governor and took a dig at Brat.

“While (McAuliffe) is concerned about the loss of seniority in Virginia’s congressional delegation, Governor McAuliffe supports Jack Trammell as the only candidate in that race who has a mainstream agenda for Virginia,” Coy said.

Trammell’s campaign manager, Beth Cope, added: “Jack agrees with Governor McAuliffe. It is devastating when a state experiences the loss of a powerful elected official who represents its interests in D.C. Fortunately, the people of the 7th district have the opportunity to elect Jack Trammell, who will work across the aisle to put the interest of Virginians first.”

Brat’s campaign spokesman declined comment.

During the hour-long show, McAuliffe touched on a host of topics and touted his administration's restoration of voting rights to more than 2,500 felons who have served their time. Earlier this year, McAuliffe eased the barriers to the restoration of civil rights for Virginians with criminal convictions.

He also slammed Congress for failing to enact immigration reform and repeated his intention to close the coverage gap using executive power, despite staunch opposition to expanding Medicaid in the Republican-controlled House.