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The Defeat of Eric Cantor

Political Rookie Defeats House Majority Leader in Primary Bid! Learn how David Brat bested Eric Cantor in Slingshot: The Defeat of Eric Cantor

November 2015 | 224 pages | CQ Press
“This is a book that needed to be written. Eric Cantor’s defeat was not only shocking but it runs against everything we teach in our election courses. By extracting the lessons from Cantor’s defeat, Slingshot helps to inform our more general understanding of campaigns & elections.”
-Professor Kirby Goidel, Texas A&M University

Incumbents don't lose. So how did nationally prominent House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lose a primary battle to college professor David Brat, an unknown political rookie? In Slingshot: The Defeat of Eric Cantor, authors Lauren Cohen Bell, David Elliot Meyer and Ronald Keith Gaddie take advantage of exceptional behind-the-scenes access to the Brat campaign to explain the challenger’s victory. They examine the essential need for elected officials to maintain strong support in their home districts and just how Cantor’s focus on climbing the party ranks in Washington contributed to his loss. They also show how local “rules of the game” —particularly voter mobilization in this case—affect elections, and they explore the continuing impact of the Tea Party and its role in the factionalism of current Southern politics.  

Chapter 1: The Cantor Case in Context
Journalists versus Political Scientists

Placing Cantor’s Defeat Into Context

Incumbent Defeats


Chapter 2: Eric Cantor and the Giant Slayer
June 10, 2014—Primary Election Night in Virginia

When Leaders Lose

Virginia and the South

The Virginia 7th & Redistricting

The Cast of Characters


Chapter 3: David and Goliath
Eric Cantor

David Brat


Chapter 4: Lost Between DC and Richmond
Life on Capitol Hill

The Three Phases of a Career

Cantor’s Early Years (2001-04)

Cantor’s mid-career years (2005-2010)

Cantor’s final two terms (2011-2014)

The Importance of Money


Chapter 5: The Primary Contest
Cantor’s Missteps

The Brat Campaign

Election Day


Chapter 6: The Aftermath
The Media (And Everyone Else) Missed the Signs

It’s (not) Immigration, Stupid

Will He or Won’t He?

The Majority Leader Steps Down

Cantor’s Resignation

The Consequences


Chapter 7: Conclusions
Lesson #1: Homestyles Matter

Lesson #2: The Inadequacy of First Impressions

Lesson #3: The Other Candidate Can Be Strategic

Lesson #4: The New Southern Factionalism

Lesson #5: Campaigns Matter

Lesson #6: The Big Sort and the Danger of the New Homogeneity

Lesson #7: The Tea Party is Not Monolithic

Lesson #8: Leadership and Risk

Lesson #9: Lessons for Political Scientists and the Pundit Class

Parting Thoughts

Epilogue: The 2014 General Election and a Look Toward 2016
Brat vs. Trammell

Brat’s Early Career in Congress

A Look Ahead to 2016

Parting Thoughts


“This is a book that needed to be written. Eric Cantor’s defeat was not only shocking but it runs against everything we teach in our election courses. By extracting the lessons from Cantor’s defeat, Slingshot helps to inform our more general understanding of campaigns and elections. Bell, Meyer, and Gaddie skillfully walk us through the campaign explaining first why the Cantor defeat never should have happened and then why—seemingly against all odds—it did. The story powerfully captures the dynamic tension between policy-making and representation, and is a reminder than even in an age of polarized politics and nationalized election campaigns ‘all politics is local.’”

Professor Kirby Goidel
Texas A&M University

“This book does a great job of taking a remarkable incumbent defeat and embedding it into the greater framework of congressional elections scholarship. Its strengths are twofold: (1) greatly detailing an important, highly unusual, and historic incumbent defeat, and (2) placing this remarkable event within a body of scholarship that clearly explains why such an unlikely event was in fact very likely to occur. This book differentiates itself from other books because of the unique case study it evaluates.”

Professor Seth McKee
Texas Tech University

“The book is well written, easy to read, and will certainly hold your attention. The authors display considerable knowledge of the political science literature and a keen awareness of modern American politics.”

Professor Gibbs Knotts
College of Charleston
Key features


  • Author David Elliot Meyer was granted exceptional, behind-the-scenes access to the Brat campaign, allowing this perfect storm of voter discontent and election strategy failure to be told in remarkable detail.
  • By bringing social science to bear on the political schädenfreude that was the coverage Eric Cantor’s fall, the book looks at why so many of the pre-election analyses offered were just plain wrong and elucidates the reasons why politicians lose.

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

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