The demands, and the lure, of being a national political figure left House Majority Leader Eric Cantor unprepared for the local revolt that unexpectedly cost him his job, two political strategists told Newsmax TV
While campaign issues such as immigration reform figured into Cantor's stunning and historic loss on Tuesday, strategists Kurt Bardella and Bradley Blakeman told "Midpoint" host Ed Berliner that the majority leader overlooked the minority of constituents who vote in his district's Republican primary.
"At the end of the day there is no substitute for making sure you take care of your backyard," said Bardella, president of Endeavor Strategic Communciations.
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Cantor, a seven-term U.S. representative and a favorite to succeed Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as House speaker, is instead preparing to surrender his leadership post
this summer — and a few months later, his seat in Congress.
He was trounced on Tuesday in Virginia's 7th congressional District by an economics professor, Dave Brat, who ran with limited funds and no prior political resumé, in what has all the makings of a future political folk tale. Cantor's defeat, which few if any handicappers predicted, has sent shock waves through a GOP establishment that thought it had quieted tea party dissenters.
All it took was Brat's 36,110 votes, out of a district-wide population of 760,000.
"A lot of candidates forget: in the primaries you have to be elected by the party before you're elected by the people," said lawyer and Georgetown University faculty member Blakeman. "A super-minority of people will determine your political fate, and that's exactly what you saw last night."
Blakeman compared Cantor to a GOP colleague who faced a similar tea party challenge this year: "John Boehner went back to his district [in Ohio] and worked it like he was a first-term congressman."
Cantor, as the second-ranking House Republican, was a prolific fundraiser for his colleagues, a manager and political strategist for his whole caucus, and a negotiator with the Obama administration. Former House staffer Bardella suggested all those obligations might have hurt him with voters back home.
"He spent too much time in the role of majority leader," said Bardella, adding, "The position . . . is very demanding, and it has you trapped in a very Beltway-centric mentality and [with] a Beltway-centric media."
That allowed the neophyte Brat to paint Cantor as an absentee representative who courted wealthy out-of-town donors while ignoring his constituents.
"Dollars do not vote, you do," Brat said in his victory speech.
The next question, said Blakeman and Bardella, is what kind of congressman Brat will become if he carries his predominantly Republican district in the fall.
Bardella guessed that Brat might seek a place within the conservative Republican Study Caucus.
"I think right now people are unsure about this person," said Bardella. "We don't know him. Let's wait and see what he wants to do."
Brat "can be very effective," said Blakeman, "and what he needs to do is surround himself now with good people. The time is short."
"The good news is he's getting tremendous name recognition," said Blakeman. "He's getting so much earned media that any Democrat [challenging him] is going to be far behind the eight ball, because a lot of people are going to know who this guy is.
"It's going to bring in a lot of money. There's a lot of enthusiasm. As Kurt pointed out, this is a Republican district, so it's really Brat's to lose."
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