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Conservatives left out as establishment Republican builds support for No. 2 post in House

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, leaves a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Repudiated at the polls, Cantor intends to resign his leadership post at the end of next month, officials said, clearing the way for a potentially disruptive Republican shake-up just before midterm elections with control of Congress at stake. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, leaves a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Repudiated at the polls, Cantor intends to resign his leadership post at the end of next month, officials said, clearing the way for a potentially disruptive Republican shake-up just before midterm elections with control of Congress at stake. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON - An establishment Republican secured a clear shot to become House majority leader on Thursday, but his likely ascent leaves the party's ultra-conservative tea party wing out of the chamber's top leadership jobs, leaving them fuming and exposing deep fissures within the party.

House Majority leader Eric Cantor suffered a stunning defeat to little-known college professor Dave Brat in Tuesday's Virginia Republican primary, a race that underscored the rift within the party between pragmatic, establishment conservatives and farther-right contenders pressing for no-compromise ideological stances.

Brat cast Cantor's past positive comments on possible immigration changes as amnesty for those here illegally — a characterization Cantor heatedly rejected — and turned it into a defining issue in the race.

Cantor announced on Wednesday that he would step down as majority leader at the end of July. He endorsed Rep. Kevin McCarthy as his successor and the No. 3 Republican in the House was set to take the No. 2 job in the House after his sole rival — Texas Rep. Pete Sessions — dropped his bid in the leadership fight.

Republicans sought to project an aura of unity but failed to quiet conservative complaints that such quick party elections after Cantor's defeat gave them little time to rally around an alternative who better reflects the right's ideology and the emboldened tea party. Votes are scheduled for next Thursday for majority leader, the No. 2 job behind Speaker John Boehner, and for majority whip, the No. 3 party post.

But that may well not be the end of it. Several Republicans asserted that next week's action won't quiet ambitious lawmakers or factions in the party caucus, and leadership contests after November's national midterm elections could produce a brand new lineup.

Cantor is the first House majority leader to lose his seat by being defeated in a party primary election since the post was created in 1899, according to Eric Ostermeier, research associate at the University of Minnesota's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

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Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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