In this combination of Associated Press photos, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, and Dave Brat, right, react after the polls close Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Richmond, Va. Brat defeated Cantor in the Republican primary. (AP Photo)
Even victor was surprised he beat Cantor
02:08 - Source: CNN AP

Story highlights

Not long ago, Cantor was seen as the tea party voice within House leadership

To some, Cantor embodied the arrogance of power

Cantor gets blamed for being in Washington on Election Day, not in his district

Dave Brat made up for the fund-raising shortfall by rallying his staunchest supporters

Washington CNN  — 

The man in line to be the next speaker of the House lost his primary Tuesday in Virginia. The outcome of the race shocked Eric Cantor, challenger Dave Brat and political pundits and analysts.

The day after Cantor’s devastating defeat, those same people are trying to answer the critical questions: Why and how did a well-funded, powerful, conservative member of Congress lose to a political novice?

1. Too much political calculation: Cantor is known for smart political calculations and ambition, but this year those attributes may have cost him his job.

One thing that’s been lacking throughout Cantor’s career is loyalty among his constituents, says Russell Berman, reporter with The Hill.

“He has always been seen as somewhat calculating,” Berman said, noting Cantor changed his position on immigration in the final weeks of the campaign.

CNN political editor Mark Preston agreed, adding that Cantor tried to have it both ways.

“It was only just a couple years ago that Eric Cantor was seen as the voice, so to speak, for the tea party within the leadership. The past couple of years, he seemed to have been moderating his views a little bit,” Preston said.

2. Too much ambition: CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger noted that as the No. 2 Republican in the House, Cantor was in line to become speaker, a position he wanted.

“(He) was seen as very ambitious, somebody who spent a lot of time fund-raising for the Republican Party,” Borger said.

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Republican strategist Ben Ferguson said Cantor “forgot that his job was to go to Washington and fight for conservative ideas.”

“He embodied – from many of their perspectives – sort of the arrogance of power. That I think has a lot to do with it. And along those lines … he didn’t tend to the district,” CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash said

3. Disconnected: Ambition and calculation lead to being disconnected.

“This is Eric Cantor’s fault. He was in Washington on Election Day, not back in his district,” CNN chief national correspondent John King said. “His confidence, his smugness, his arrogance cost him his seat.”

Borger agreed. “This is a repudiation of Eric Cantor personally, that he failed Politics 101, which is to keep in touch with your district,” she said.

“And that was an issue,” Ferguson said. “When you start having your operatives deal with the little people in your district – like, oh, you take their phone calls, oh, you e-mail them back, I’m too busy for that, I’m this big dog in the GOP – the way that Eric Cantor, John Boehner, John McCain have acted, you get your rear end kicked eventually.”

4. Turnout/enthusiasm: Brat’s campaign didn’t come close to matching Cantor’s deep pockets, but Brat made up for the fund-raising shortfall by rallying his staunchest supporters.

“Money can’t buy enthusiasm,” Bash said.

CNN political analyst John Avlon said the difference may lie in voter turnout, which stood at just 12% on Tuesday.

“When you get these very low turnout primaries and the people are not paying attention to, they can be easily hijacked by activists. There is no question Eric Cantor would have won a general election in his district,” Avlon said.

5. The role of the right: Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent, said conservative media corralled the troops to vote for Brat in numbers that Cantor did not match.

“Laura Ingraham, for example, to name one talk radio host, was very supportive of Brat, even held a rally for him in Virginia this time last week. The top of her website today said, ‘Vote Dave Brat today.’ Other radio hosts also supported him. Ann Coulter supported him. And I think they are going to be getting credit in the days to come. Tonight on Fox News, Megyn Kelly called Ingraham instrumental to this victory,” Stelter said.

6. … and the left: Larry Sabato, diirector of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said Democrats, who make up 43% of the district, played a role as well.

“There was a major outreach to Democrats in that district,” Sabato said. “You had Brat operatives going to Democratic Party committees, even on election eve, asking them to go to the polls to get rid of Eric Cantor. It had nothing to do with Dave Brat. There were robocalls to Democrats in that district, wanting – telling Democrats come out to the polls.”

7. He was a casualty of a bigger battle: “(Cantor had been) taking conservative position after conservative position after conservative position, but almost 100% wasn’t enough for these folks. And I think of it as a major message to Republican leadership,” Avlon said.

Borger said that Cantor’s loss to a challenge from the right, despite rock-solid conservative credentials, puts the GOP at a crossroad.

“I think they’re kind of at the proverbial fork in the road. They can either be a congressional party and win these congressional seats by going further to the right, or they can become a presidential party in which you have to move to the middle.”

Cantor was not only an establishment figure, GOP Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska noted, but was deeply involved in negotiating with the White House to end the government shutdown last fall.

“And that was used against him. And so the message to us is, negotiation or compromise could get you beat,” Terry said.

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