Former House majority leader Eric Cantor plans to endorse the presidential campaign of Jeb Bush on Thursday evening, according to campaign aides.
Cantor, who stunned the nation with his historic 2014 GOP primary loss, becomes the most high-profile Virginia Republican to back Bush to date. He will co-chair Bush's Virginia campaign along with two other party luminaries: Kay Cole James, a former Virginia health secretary, and John Hager, a former lieutenant governor and chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. Hager's son, Henry, is married to Bush's niece, Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of George W. Bush.
Cantor will formally endorse Bush on Thursday night at a Bush fundraiser in Richmond. The two will also appear together Friday at a campaign event in Norfolk.
"Gov. Bush has always had tremendous respect for Congressman Cantor and is grateful for his support and endorsement," said his spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell.
The Bush fundraiser in the Virginia capital is set to draw a who's who of Virginia Republicans, including Mark Kington, a venture capitalist who used to be business partners with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and has been very supportive of Warner, but also Republicans; Tom Farrell, the CEO of Dominion Resources Inc., one of Virginia's largest and most powerful companies; and Richard Cullen, chairman of the McGuireWoods law firm, a major international firm that's headquartered in Richmond. He's also a long time friend of Cantor.
In the past, Bush and Cantor have worked together on education reform issues -- which were a key part of Cantor's policy portfolio as a House Republican leader. In the coming months, Bush is expected to "engage" with Cantor on foreign policy and ask the Virginia Republican to serve as a lead surrogate to Jewish Americans, according to campaign aides.
News of the endorsement was first reported by Politico.
Cantor remains well liked and respected in the Virginia business community and among the Republican donor class in the commonwealth, though many conservative activists have little affection for him. But he remains the most senior Republican leader to succumb to a tea party challenge in recent years.
Stunned by the loss, House Republicans immediately dropped plans to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, abandoned attempts to work with President Obama on other legislation and set out on a weeks-long fight among GOP lawmakers to pick a new leadership team.
The Cantor endorsement comes amid a wave of announced support for Bush among local and statewide Republican officials in several states. From mayors to Florida, to state legislators in Nevada and Michigan, the candidate has picked up the endorsements despite his sagging poll numbers in early primary states and the surging campaign of businessman Donald Trump.
On Capitol Hill, Bush has more public endorsements than any other presidential candidate. In recent weeks, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have announced that they're backing Bush. In the House, Reps. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) and a majority of the Florida Republican congressional delegation are also on board.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is close with Bush and publicly urged him to consider a race, but isn't expected to endorse any candidate for next year's Republican National Convention. A handful of former senior House Republican aides — including former Boehner spokesman Michael Steel and Robert S. Karem, a former top policy adviser to Cantor and his successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — are now top Bush campaign advisers.
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.