Eric Cantor and Lindsey Graham: 2 Republican Races, 2 Different Outcomes

PHOTO: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, left, speaks to the media, Jan. 28, 2014 in Washington. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., talks with reporters in the Capitol, Jan. 7, 2014.
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No one saw House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss coming, least of all the Virginia Republican and his team. In fact, ahead of Tuesday night, most of the talk among the political chattering class was about whether South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham would be able to clear the 50 percent mark – enough to avoid a runoff -- in his Republican Senate primary.

As it turned out, Graham easily topped 50 percent and it was Cantor who fell to Tea Party newcomer Dave Brat in a shocking upset. Everyone – pundits, political consultants and journalists alike -- seems to have an opinion about why Cantor went down in flames while Graham cruised to victory.

We decided to curate some of the prevailing theories about how two candidates – both Southern Republicans, both big names on Capitol Hill, both running in a primary on the same night – could meet two totally different fates. Take a look:

WHY GRAHAM WON: THE THEORIES

  • He started doing favors for his colleagues from SC
    • "'When the members of the congressional delegation needed something for their district, their first call was to Lindsey Graham and it was to his cell phone.'" (Former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson, National Journal)
 
  • He moved to the right during his primary
    • "In his final campaign commercial before the primary, Graham touted his conservative credentials, which he said included support for 'building the Keystone pipeline, opposing Obamacare, looking for answers on Benghazi, standing up for our military.'" (CNN)
 
  • He was better liked in his district
    • "Graham's victory was also aided by assiduous attention to constituent service" (National Journal)
    • "In contrast to several other endangered Republican senators who spend most of their time in Washington---neighboring Sen. Thad Cochran, who's at risk of losing a runoff this month, is a prime example---Graham regularly returns home on weekends to rallies, party events, and American Legion posts, where he tells well-wishers to greet him by his first name." (National Journal)
 
  • He had several challengers, not just one
    • "Graham's six little-known GOP challengers ended up dividing the anti-Graham vote, not allowing for a single or choice opponent to emerge." (Post Courier)
    •  "Through a combination of intimidation and enticement---as when he helped a conservative congressman, Mick Mulvaney, get a seat on the House Financial Services Committee---he kept the most prominent potential opponents out of the race" (The Atlantic)
    • "[Graham's] fundraising --- and a major charm offensive to get on the good side of conservatives in the House delegation --- dissuaded potentially serious rivals from getting in." (Politico)
  • He never assumed he'd win handily, and started prepping his campaign well in advance
    • "Mr. Graham prepared for his seemingly inevitable primary challenge years in advance, recognizing that his frequent deviations from party orthodoxy would make him a prime target on the right." (New York Times)
    •  "Graham left nothing to chance ... He raised $13 million and seeded a formidable campaign operation, with more than 5,000 precinct captains and six field offices around the state." (The Atlantic)
 
  • National Tea Party groups, sensing his opponents wouldn't be able to muster much support, left Graham's race alone
    • "National tea party groups ...which eyed Graham at the outset of the election cycle, mostly steered clear of South Carolina, where none of Graham's opponents caught fire."  (Washington Post)
 
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