TIME White House

Obama’s New Drug Policy Looks a Lot Like the Old One

Michael Botticelli
Michael Botticelli, left, acting director of National Drug Control Policy, speaks to community leaders in Roanoke, Va., on July 9, 2014 Erica Yoon—AP

A new emphasis on treatment and addiction, but no change on marijuana

The Obama Administration unveiled an updated drug policy Thursday, including a new emphasis on treatment and addiction programs and a push to curb abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers.

Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, framed the retooled strategy as a shift away from the punitive policies that have produced record incarceration rates.

“Our prisons and jails are already overcrowded with people who desperately need compassionate, evidence-based treatment for the disease of addiction—not a jail cell,” Botticelli said in a statement before an event in Roanoke, Va.

Among the elements of the plan are expanded access to drug education, treating drug addition as a health issue rather than a criminal one, and a push to divert nonviolent drug offenders into treatment rather than prisons. It promotes tackling the twin scourges of heroin and prescription opiates, whose abuse rates have climbed.

The Administration’s call for criminal-justice reform reflects widespread agreement, inside the White House and out, that the war on drugs has been a misbegotten failure. The Department of Justice has emphasized the need to overhaul its approach from being “tough on crime” to being “smart on crime.” The updated policy is a continuation of that strategy. “The plan we released today calls for reforming our criminal justice system to find alternatives to incarceration—and effective interventions across the entire system to get people the treatment they need.”

But for the most part, the Administration’s approach looks like more of the same. It outlines no changes to the White House’s approach to marijuana, a blow to legalization advocates in the same week that Washington state became the second to legalize the sale of cannibis to adults for recreational purposes.

Despite the President’s belief that pot is less harmful than alcohol, federal law still classifies it as a Schedule I drug on par with cocaine and ecstasy. Discrepancies between state and federal pot laws have blocked legitimate weed-business owners from accessing banks and left the threat of jail time looming over users, sellers and growers even in states where some form of the drug is now legal.

The new strategy calls the increasing perception that cannabis is relatively harmless—fed not only by state legalization efforts, but also perhaps the President’s own remarks to that effect—a “serious challenge” to drug reform efforts.

“The drug czar’s office is still tone deaf when it comes to marijuana policy,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Why stay the course when the current policy has utterly failed to accomplish its goals?”

TIME 2014 Election

Chris McDaniel Wants a Do-Over in Mississippi

McDaniel delivers a concession speech in Hattiesburg
Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel delivers a concession speech in Hattiesburg, Miss., on June 24, 2014. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters

Alleges rampant voter fraud tipped the election to incumbent Thad Cochran

The Republican Senate primary race in Mississippi ended last month — but the drama is only beginning.

The state Republican Party on Monday officially certified incumbent Senator Thad Cochran’s narrow victory over Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel in the June 24 runoff vote. But McDaniel is still refusing to concede, alleging that rampant voter fraud tipped the race to the incumbent and threatening to launch a rare legal challenge with the goal of a political do-over: rerunning the race.

“The allegations of criminal misconduct against the Cochran campaign and his close associates continue to mount,” McDaniel, a conservative state senator, said in a statement July 8. “Mississippians deserve a full accounting of the unbecoming tactics the Cochran campaign used in their attempt to drive ineligible voters to the polls in June.”

At the heart of the controversy is the McDaniel campaign’s claim that Cochran’s team enlisted ineligible Democrats to boost the vulnerable incumbent, whose narrow loss in the original June 3 primary prompted the runoff. According to the state party, the certified election results indicate Cochran squeaked through by a margin of 7,667 votes out of a total 382,197 ballots cast.

The Cochran campaign was frank about its strategy of courting Democrats to pad Cochran’s support. And there’s evidence the strategy worked. According to a New York Times analysis, Cochran’s vote totals leaped from the primary to the runoff in Democratic counties that overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama. And Cochran racked up big margins in places like Hinds County, one of the state’s most liberal precincts.

The question is how many of those votes were valid. Mississippi law doesn’t prohibit voters from crossing the aisle to support a candidate in a different party. But it forbids doing so for voters who already cast ballots in their own party’s primary. That means Democrats who voted in their June 3 primary couldn’t legally cast ballots in the Republican runoff.

Cataloging crossover votes is the responsibility of individual counties, according to Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman with the Mississippi secretary of state’s office. So it may be some time before the matter is settled. “We’re meticulously documenting all of the evidence of illegal crossover votes, of which there is an abundance — many, many thousands,” said Noel Fritsch, McDaniel’s spokesman.

In the meantime, the challenger is using the pent-up fury of the conservative movement to replenish his coffers. A fundraising solicitation splashed across the front of his campaign website claims: “Democrats steal the Mississippi runoff.” But McDaniel’s campaign has yet to offer hard evidence to support those allegations. It says it has been blocked from reviewing poll logs by uncooperative circuit clerks.

To Cochran’s team, the explosive claims are a textbook case of a sore loser looking to use the stakes of the election to retire campaign debt. McDaniel loaned his campaign $100,100 before the primary. It’s unclear whether the money raised for a possible legal challenge will go toward the debt.

But the fight doesn’t look likely to abate anytime soon.

TIME 2016 Election

Rick Perry Getting Ready for a 2016 Presidential Campaign

Texas Governor Rick Perry Speaks At The Commonwealth Club
Rick Perry, governor of Texas, speaks at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco on June 11, 2014. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Texas Governor has not yet committed to run, but he is boasting about getting his ducks in a row.

Two-and-a-half years after his first campaign for the White House flopped, Texas Governor Rick Perry sounds ready for another run at the presidency. “I’m glad I ran in 2012, as frustrating, as painful and as humbling as that experience was,” Perry told a group of national reporters at a Thursday lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

“Preparation is the single most important lesson that I learned out of that process,” he said. “Over the last 18 months, I’ve focused on being substantially better prepared. Please don’t take that as an indication that I’ve made a decision that I’m going to run or not—but if I do make that decision, I will be prepared.”

As his third term in the statehouse winds to a close, the swaggering Republican has refreshed his message, retooled his workout routine and retrained his sights toward the national stage. Perry is crisscrossing the country these days, dropping in on ice cream shops in Iowa, hot-dog fundraisers in South Carolina and donor confabs in California.

The overriding message? Perry is a national player, and he is not going to disappear when he steps down from his last term as governor. When he barreled into the race in the summer of 2011, Perry was touted as a major player in a moribund primary field. Handsome and folksy, with conservative credentials, a deep donor network and a record of poaching jobs from other states, Perry immediately vaulted to the top of pundits’ pecking order.

But the reality didn’t match the hype. Perry never connected with GOP voters. He ran a slipshod operation marred by unforced errors, including an indelible mental blank at a nationally televised debate. If he runs again, Perry would be betting that voters’ willingness to grant second chances will outweigh a sour first impression.

“I’m a competitor,” he told reporters Thursday. “I’m not going to ride off into the sunset.”

He has learned from the mishaps of the last campaign. Perry’s new message mixes conservative tribalism, such as skepticism toward climate change and a dose of Obama bashing, with a record of economic achievement designed to appeal to a national audience. Texas, he likes to say, has created 37% of the new private-sector private sector jobs in the U.S. over the past few years.

He has also changed his tune on immigration, a controversial issue that helped sink his last bid for the presidency. Audiences fixated on “oops,” but Perry’s advocacy of in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants (and his claim that those opposing the measure lacked a heart) had already sent his poll numbers plummeting among the GOP’s activist base.

This time around, he is speaking the Tea Party’s language on immigration. He resists immigration reform until the federal government secures the border, slammed the Immigration and Naturalization Agency and has directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to execute a “surge operation” to shore up the state’s southern border.

As the libertarian wing of the party grows, Perry has embraced efforts to be “smarter” about crime, embracing decriminalization of marijuana in Texas and touting the state’s success in adopting drug and prostitution courts that give judges sentencing flexibility with non-violent first-time offenders.

Perry is still stronger before conservative groups than he is with a national audience. “It’s time for a little rebellion on the battlefield of ideas,” he declared in a rousing March speech that sent activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference to the feet. In other settings, he has a tendency to goof: such as when he likened homosexuality to alcoholism at a recent speech in San Francisco. “I stepped right in it,” he told reporters Thursday, suggesting that social issues were a distraction from his core message of economic growth.

If he runs again, Perry would recalibrate his strategy. His late entrance into the 2012 primary put him at a structural disadvantage, which was exacerbated by a slow recovery from back surgery. “I figured surely I can heal up in six weeks and go back in the game. Not necessarily the case,” Perry joked, alluding to the condition that sapped his strength. This time, he has ditched his running routine and his cowboy boots in an effort to prepare physically.

He is also taking steps to broaden his donor base. Americans for Economic Freedom, a 501(c)4 formed with $200,00 left over from the super PAC backing his first presidential bid, has allowed Perry to grow his influence outside Texas. An aide says the group, which does not report its finances, has the backing of a wide swath of the Republican donor class. It is bankrolling his trips to meet with donors and give speeches, as well as to run television ads designed to highlight the Lone Star State’s economic boom. And it is funding his visits to Democratic states to poach businesses with promises of lower taxes.

The group has also run web ads highlighting early-state governors’ commitment to those economic principles, including Iowa’s Terry Branstad and South Carolina’s Nikki Haley. “This is his core message,” said a Perry strategist who declined to be named discussing future plans.

“The governor has been very clear that he’s keeping the options open,” the strategist continued. “The main focus is the 2014 election. If we do a good job there, it’s going to be easier in 2016.”

“We both have some tread left on our tires,” Perry’s wife, Anita, told attendees at the Texas Republican Convention. Her husband’s speech there this month had all the markings of an announcement speech. “This America we love faces some hard decisions. And it requires better leaders,” Perry said. “Let’s get to work.”

TIME 2014 Election

A Vulnerable Democrat Pushes The Keystone XL Pipeline

Mary Landrieu pushes a politically helpful bill through her committee in an election year

Seniority in Washington isn’t what it used to be, but it still has certain perquisites. Mary Landrieu chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, a perch that offered the vulnerable Louisiana Democrat an opportunity Wednesday to mix policy and politics.

With President Barack Obama delaying a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reluctant to schedule a floor vote on a bill that would subvert Obama’s authority, Landrieu pushed through a committee vote on the controversial pipeline. It passed, 12-10, with Landrieu joining Republicans to vote in favor of the project.

The move could be a political boon for Landrieu, a moderate Democrat locked in a difficult fight to win reelection in the conservative Bayou State. One recent poll found that 67% of Louisiana voters favored construction of the pipeline, with just 12% opposing the project. Nearly four in five respondents cited Keystone as an important issue in the race.

Landrieu is running slightly behind Republican nominee Bill Cassidy in a RealClearPolitics average of recent polls. That may be one reason why she was keen on accentuating her support for the project, which would carry tar sands from Alberta through the American heartland to the Gulf of Mexico. Supporters say the pipeline would bolster U.S. energy independence and decrease reliance on foreign oil, while opponents warn it will pollute communities and exacerbate climate change.

Landrieu’s support for the project is not merely political. As a three-term incumbent from an energy state, she is a longtime supporter of the oil and gas industries, the second largest contributors to her campaign war chest over the past five years. “Many of us have been supporting the construction of this pipeline for many, many years,” she said during hearing Wednesday. “This is a serious issue.”

Republicans agree. But they dismissed the vote a political charade, noting that the opposition of Reid and senior Democratic leaders means the issue is unlikely to receive a vote before the full Senate. “We all know this isn’t going anywhere, because Harry Reid won’t let us vote on this,” said Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, a Republican who supports the pipeline’s construction. The criticism dripped with irony: Republicans, of course, scheduled a slew of show votes to repeal a health care reform bill that wasn’t going anywhere.

Landrieu heralded the passage of the bill through committee and promised she’d press Reid to allow a vote before the full Senate. Iraq’s descent into sectarian warfare was a reminder, she said, of the importance of forging energy alliances with North American neighbors Canada and Mexico. That didn’t stop Republicans from accusing her of playing politics. “This vote seems more like a cheerleading exercise,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, “than a meaningful effort to get Keystone built.”

TIME energy

The Indian Example

While Americans question climate change, global competitors like India are leading the fight to combat its challenges, according to a global TIME survey

Americans may still be skeptical about climate change. But around the world, global warming is not only settled science; it’s a reality that our international counterparts are taking varying steps to combat. And India is leading the way.

In a new global survey conducted for TIME about attitudes toward energy, Indians were the most committed to conservation and the most optimistic about their ability to reduce emissions.

Of the six countries polled, Indians were the likeliest to express deep concerns about energy and consumption. More than 9 in 10 Indians reported that conservation issues were “very important” to them, compared to 68% overall. Indians were more than twice as willing to pay more for clean energy as residents of Brazil, Germany, Turkey, South Korea or the U.S.

Each of these countries has moved to minimize their environmental footprint in different ways. Germans are in the habit of powering down their computers. Brazilians are assiduous about switching off lights. The U.S. leads the way in recycling.

But Indians reported the most comprehensive approach to energy conservation, with 8 in 10 Indians reporting that they have altered their personal habits to curb consumption. Those changes include several simple tasks that go a long way toward shaving both costs and carbon emissions. Indians are the likeliest of the six nations surveyed to carpool, take public transportation, and walk rather than ride in a vehicle. They unplug appliances from the socket when not using them more frequently than anyone else.

Part of this is a culture of fiscal restraint. Among their peers polled by TIME, Indians were the likeliest to say they stick to a monthly budget, as well as the most committed to setting aside money for retirement. In a nation with a strict caste system, and endemic poverty interspersed with pockets of colossal wealth, the lure to save may have spurred good energy habits. Conservation correlates with financial discipline across the six countries in the survey; in each, the most fiscally responsible respondents were also the most likely to engage in energy-conscious behavior.

But India is also unique. It is a burgeoning superpower with stark energy challenges. Its billion-strong population is rapidly growing, expected to surpass China’s for the world’s largest within the next 15 years. With that growth comes surging demand that will further strain creaky infrastructure. India is heavily reliant on fossil fuels and foreign imports. Its faltering energy grid often leaves large swaths of the nation baking in sweltering heat. Up to 40% of India’s rural households lack electricity.

These systemic challenges appear to have shaped attitudes toward energy, driving both social consciousness and innovation. In some of India’s urban slums, startups are swapping out dirty and dangerous kerosene lamps for new solar lanterns. The government has gotten in the game by implementing a series of conservation policies, such as requiring state government buildings to have energy-efficient designs. This month, the Modi government began work on a plan that offers incentives for investment in renewables, and hopes to have half the homes in Indian cities fueled by solar or wind energy within five years. And the public grasps the importance of the project: asked what concern guides their energy habits, Indians cited minimizing their environmental footprint (46%) over curbing costs (34%) or maximizing comfort (21%).

The efforts have spurred confidence. Though Indians are widely cognizant of climate issues, they’re more optimistic than their peers about the world’s ability to cope with the challenges. More than 60% of Indians say they believe the world can slash carbon emissions 80% by 2050, compared to 37% of respondents overall. Of the six nations surveyed by TIME, India was only one in which a majority was optimistic about the potential to achieve that level of cuts.

The survey was conducted among 3,505 online respondents equally divided between the U.S., Brazil, Germany, Turkey, India and Korea. Polling was conducted from May 10 to May 22. The overall margin of error overall is 1.8%.

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Skeptical of Laws Against Lying

Campaign by anti-abortion group at issue

Lying is a pillar of politics, as intrinsic a piece of the American electoral system as money and fear. We lament the false attack ads, the twisted narratives, the distortions of campaigns. But a Supreme Court decision Monday raises questions about whether states’ attempt to police campaign falsehoods may be more detrimental than the lies themselves.

In a 9-0 decision, the Court ruled that the Susan B. Anthony List, a national anti-abortion group, had the right to challenge an Ohio law that criminalizes false political speech. The ruling itself has limited impact: The justices’ decision merely allows SBA List to have its case heard in federal court. But it highlights the intersection—and the conflict—between the First Amendment and the truth.

The case stems from a 2010 Congressional race in southwest Ohio. Republicans were trying to win the House by harnessing anger about the health care reform law. Steve Driehaus, a local Democratic congressman, had voted for the bill. The SBA List, which identified Driehaus as one of the nation’s most vulnerable Democrats, sought to display a billboard in Driehaus’ district that slammed the congressman for supporting “taxpayer-funded abortions.” Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission, alleging that the claim violated state law against lying in political campaigns. In the end, Driehaus lost without the billboard ever going up. (He later dropped the complaint.) The SBA List filed suit in federal court, alleging that the Ohio law chilled future speech.

The Court’s ruling on Monday was limited in scope. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, argued that SBA List had the right to challenge the law in a lower court that had previously dismissed the suit. The Court skirted the question of whether Ohio’s law was constitutional, and did not weigh in on whether SBA List was, in fact, lying when it sought to cast Driehaus as a supporter of “taxpayer-funded abortions.”

But the ruling was still an important one. It suggests the Court is deeply skeptical toward states that attempt to police political advertising. Ohio is one of 16 states with statutes on the books designed to prevent false statements in campaigns. “The burdens” that such laws “impose on electoral speech,” Thomas writes, “are of particular concern here.”

Thomas’ opinion for the Court is wonky and dense, hewing to narrow questions about the legitimacy of bringing a lawsuit to prevent future injury. But in oral arguments in April, the justices hurled spirited objections to the implications of anti-lying laws. Justice Antonin Scalia made a dark allusion to the “Ministry of Truth,” the nefarious propaganda police in Orwell’s 1984. The Court’s ruling could pave the way for a future challenge to states’ ability to guard against willful or reckless embellishment.

If the Justices ducked the question of whether the government ultimately has a role in determining an ad’s veracity, SBA List did not. “No. There is no role,” the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, told reporters on a conference call. “The truth or falsity of political speech should be judged by voters, not government bureaucrats.”

But if states can’t shield citizens from lies, what becomes of the voters who don’t have the inclination or ability to run down the facts on their own? The 2014 elections, like each one preceding them, will be a riot of spin, spurious argument and deliberate misinformation. SBA List was triumphant Monday, but their allegations against Driehaus—repeated this year against Democratic Senate incumbents in the competitive states of North Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas—don’t entirely stand up to scrutiny. In its assessment of the abortion claim, Factcheck.org writes that “strictly speaking, the new law does not provide direct federal funding for abortion, except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother.” Politifact also ruled the claim “false.”

Truth may be in the eye of the beholder, but someone has to hold people responsible when they pull the wool over our eyes.

TIME Congress

Cantor To Resign as Majority Leader

Following stunning primary defeat

Eric Cantor said Wednesday that he will step down from his post as House Majority Leader, capping a sudden fall from political power that started with a shocking electoral defeat Tuesday.

“It is with great humility that I do so, knowing the tremendous honor it has been to hold this position,” Cantor told reporters in Washington. His resignation from leadership will be effective July 31.

The Virginia Republican was toppled in a stunning primary upset Tuesday night by economics professor Dave Brat.

“While I may have suffered a personal setback last night, I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of this country,” Cantor said. Pointing to House Republicans’ work on spending cuts, education reform and opposition to President Barack Obama’s health reform law, Cantor said: “Now some people think Washington gets nothing done. Well there’s a stack of bills waiting in the Senate that shows House Republicans get things done. A lot of things.”

His defeat had already touched off a furious scramble, with several prominent Republican lawmakers angling for a chance to replace Cantor in the House GOP hierarchy. Cantor was widely seen as a front-runner to succeed House Speaker John Boehner. Cantor said Wednesday that he plans to support Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California for the job, who he said “would make an outstanding Majority Leader.”

Cantor did his best to avoid opining on why he lost, but he pushed back against the idea that he had been too focused on his leadership role and not enough on his district. “I was in my district every week,” he said. And Cantor sought to tamp down the narrative that his defeat exposed a deeper rift in the Republican Party at a time when Tea Party conservatives had seemed to be on the wane. “What divides Republicans pales in comparison to what divides us conservatives from the left and the Democratic Party,” he said. He said his focus would remain on the party’s legislative agenda until his term ends, and declined to speculate on what he might do after leaving office.

Democrats took the opportunity again Wednesday to hold up Cantor’s defeat as evidence the GOP has gone too far in blocking Obama’s agenda.

“I do think that this outcome does provide some evidence to indicate that the strategy of opposing nearly everything and supporting hardly anything is not just a bad governing strategy, it is not a very good political strategy either,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “That is why the President has pursued a different approach [and]… has laid out what his priorities are.”

The maneuvering for Cantor’s leadership spot began shortly after his campaign was caught off guard on Tuesday night. The upset sent shockwaves reverberating through the House GOP, but the initial surprise soon yielded to ambition. The first question is who supplants the seven-term Virginia Republican as the GOP’s majority leader and Boehner’s No. 2. The natural successor for the job is McCarthy, the No. 3 House Republican. McCarthy has kept a low profile since Cantor’s defeat, issuing only a brief four-sentence condolence statement, but is expected to make a play for the job.

Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, has begun lining up support for a competing bid. And fellow Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a favorite of the GOP’s Tea Party wing, is also considered a possible candidate. Hensarling said in a statement that he is “prayerfully considering” a run at a leadership post.

“McCarthy relied on Cantor to pull him along while working closely with him,” says one GOP aide. “This makes it likely that Hensarling gives it a shot.”

Should McCarthy move up, multiple candidates are also lining up to replace him as the conference’s whip. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who heads the roughly 170-member Republican Study Committee, is already trying to “lock down support” from a bloc of conservatives, according to another House GOP aide. And Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam, the party’s deputy whip and a strong fundraiser, is expected to mount a bid for the role.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the GOP’s top-ranked woman, must also decide whether to launch a campaign for a higher role or remain in her perch as the party’s conference chair. “She is assessing how she can best serve the people in her district, the Conference, and the country,” says a GOP aide. “She’s hearing from a lot of people and talking to a lot of people, but hasn’t made any decisions.”

As Republicans scramble, Democrats are planning to use the jockeying to argue their Hill opponents are consumed with “chaotic” internal squabbles, says a Democratic strategist familiar with the party’s midterm elections planning.

Shortly before Cantor’s remarks Wednesday, Boehner addressed House Republicans behind closed doors and thanked Cantor for his service.

“This is a speech I never expected to give,” Boehner said in remarks provided to reporters. “I want to start by offering a heartfelt thanks to Eric and his staff for their service to our conference, our institution and our country.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Boehner added. “When I was elected majority leader eight and a half years ago, Eric was there, as the chief deputy whip. He’s always been there. There’s no one who works harder, or puts more thought, into advancing our principles and the solutions we want to enact for the American people.”

-Additional reporting by Jay Newton-Small and Alex Rogers

TIME 2014 Election

A National Leader Falls in a Local Rebellion

All politics proved local for Eric Cantor

As late as the afternoon of Election Day, Eric Cantor’s top strategists felt assured that the House Majority Leader was coasting to victory. Turnout was strong across Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District, which Cantor has represented for seven terms; his team regarded that as a positive sign. The worst-case scenario that Team Cantor envisioned, says one Republican close to the campaign, was that a narrower victory margin would impede the No. 2 House Republican’s path to the Speakership he has long coveted.

Instead, Cantor crashed out of Congress at the hands of an unknown economics professor named Dave Brat. Nobody in Washington saw the stunning defeat coming, least of all Cantor’s brain trust. But back in his district, in the suburbs of Richmond, there were troubling signs that the House Majority Leader ignored.

“This wasn’t a fluke that accidentally happened,” says Jamie Radtke, a former Virginia Senate candidate and co-founder of the Virginia Federation of Tea Party Patriots. “It was a methodical process that we’ve been building toward for the past five years.”

The story of Cantor’s loss is a tale of how his national ambitions, and his role as the No. 2 House Republican, took him away from a district that grew to resent him. And it is the story of how Cantor’s high-powered campaign team, which boasted the most sophisticated operation in the state, didn’t spot the red flags until it was too late—and then miscalculated when it came time to react.

Cantor’s defeat was not, as many observers have suggested, because of his cautious embrace of immigration reform. It wasn’t propelled by the national Tea Party groups who claimed the victory as their own; few of the outfits waging war on the Republican Establishment lifted a finger for Brat. And it had little to do with the division sowed within the Virginia GOP by Ken Cuccinelli’s failed gubernatorial campaign; Cantor gave more money to the Tea Party favorite than most.

“People want to talk about a national narrative,” says Chris La Civita, a veteran Republican who was Cuccinelli’s top strategist. “This has much more to do with a local one.”

As Cantor traveled the country, lavishing cash on GOP candidates and building his national profile for a future run at the speaker’s gavel, conservatives in his backyard grew to believe that he took their support for granted. Cantor has racked up huge margins in the solidly conservative district. But as the Tea Party gained steam, built a network of volunteers and ultimately grabbed control of much of the state GOP, its members were irked that Cantor had little inclination to solicit support from activists.

“People could not understand why he wouldn’t meet with people, why he wouldn’t hold town hall meetings,” says Radtke. “The feeling and the sentiment for years in the district was that he was way more concerned about Wall Street than the Seventh District. People were really fed up with the corporate cronyism.”

Brat capitalized on that perception by running on a message of economic populism. The professor, a polished and articulate speaker, painted the incumbent as insufficiently conservative, tapping a reservoir of grassroots frustration with the GOP’s national leadership. Brat, whose campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries from TIME, had little cash and fewer national connections. But he worked the district aggressively. Cantor didn’t.

“What Brat did right was he showed up. He created a David vs. Goliath narrative,” says a Republican consultant close to Cantor’s campaign. “Eric’s job required him to spend a lot of time on the road expanding the party’s majority, and therein lies the problem.”

Polling was scant in the sleepy primary, and Cantor’s team boasted that its internal surveys showed the Majority Leader coasting toward a cakewalk. But the warning signs were mounting. At a district convention in May, Linwood Cobb, a top Cantor lieutenant, was toppled in a race for the local GOP chairmanship by a Tea Party favorite. Cantor himself was booed.

The Majority Leader’s team recognized the lurking threat. It went nuclear on Brat, spattering the airwaves with negative advertising and blanketing the district with direct-mail pieces. But the onslaught may have backfired by raising awareness of the unknown upstart challenging a political giant whose base had soured on him.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul suggests Cantor went “too far negative.”

“It may well have increased the name identification of a lesser known candidate,” Paul said.

Radtke, who spent hours at the polls talking to conservative voters on Tuesday, says she heard the same refrain echoed over and over: “People said they’ve voted for Cantor every single time. But enough is enough. We’ve got to send Washington, D.C. a message.”

-with reporting by Zeke J Miller

TIME 2014 Election

Meet Dave Brat, The Giant Slayer Who Beat Eric Cantor

David Brat
Seventh District US Congressional Republican candidate David Brat at a press conference in Richmond, Va., May 28, 2014. Brat, a relative unknown, defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary, June 10, 2014. Steve Helber—AP

The conservative economics professor topples the House Majority Leader in a stunning upset

The bespectacled college professor who toppled House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary Tuesday earned a masters of divinity from Princeton with a thesis on the philosophical doctrine of logical positivism. He was a rare breed of giant slayer: the kind that nobody saw coming.

“God acted through people on my behalf,” Dave Brat told Fox News after his win. “The issue is the Republican Party has been paying too much attention to Wall Street, and not enough attention to Main Street.”

When the votes were counted, he had racked up 56% of the vote in Virginia’s Seventh District, besting the No. 2 House Republican by about 7,000 votes. A former economic consultant at the World Bank with a Ph.D from American University, Brat also worked at the accountancy Arthur Andersen in Detroit and Chicago. He has chaired the Randolph-Macon Department of Economics and Business in sleepy Ashland, Va., since 1995.

Whatever the issue, it was a stunning victory. Brat’s candidacy wasn’t championed by powerful national conservative groups. His thin political resume is limited to civic activity in Henrico County, the Richmond-area suburbs that form Cantor’s base. He raised just $206,000, a mere fraction of Cantor’s $4.7 million haul. Scant polling had Brat trailing by double digits; in the waning stages of the contest, Cantor’s veteran campaign team touted an internal survey that showed the powerful incumbent’s lead hovering around 30 points.

But Brat was able to channel the grassroots frustration with Republican leadership. Much of his campaign was built on shopworn conservative boilerplate: cutting taxes, shredding Obamacare, enacting term limits and protecting the Second Amendment from looming threats. He cast Cantor as a weak-kneed leader who capitulated to Democrats and flagged in the battle to repeal the President’s health-care reform law. A photo on Brat’s website—which boasts an aesthetic reminiscent of the early-aughts—showed the incumbent with his hand over his heart, in conversation with a smiling Barack Obama.

The message was clear: Cantor had been in Washington too long, was too cozy with Democratic rivals, and had forsaken his conservative district to further his national ambitions. “Dave Brat is a smart dude,” marveled David “Mudcat” Saunders, a veteran Democratic consultant in the state. “It was a shoe leather campaign. It was the greatest of the grassroots. He knocked on doors, he got out there, he told his story. They just did a hell of a job.”

Brat also tried to paint Cantor, who is considered a cautious supporter of immigration reform, as an advocate of “amnesty.” The No. 2 House Republican vociferously rejected the label, and in fact had rejected Democratic pleas to bring up comprehensive immigration reform for a vote.

Tea Party groups, who have struggled in this year’s intramural skirmishes against mainline conservatives, touted the victory as a sign of the movement’s enduring strength. “The fact that an underfunded candidate like Dave Brat has upset the sitting Majority Leader in a primary is not only a statement that the Tea Party is alive and well,” said Daniel Horowitz of the conservative Madison Project, but also “a mandate for leadership reform, and a shot across the bow for the rest of the Republicans.”

Early signs suggest the state’s GOP leadership will coalesce around the unlikely victor. Pat Mullins, the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, lauded Brat as “highly-qualified, dedicated, and committed to the Commonwealth of Virginia and her people.”

Cantor, who can still opt to mount a write-in campaign, is only the second House Republican incumbent to lose a GOP primary this year. It was a defeat that nobody saw coming—except perhaps the little-known figure who authored the upset. “I think I’m peaking at the right time,” Brat said recently. And he turned out to be right.

-With reporting by Alex Rogers and Zeke J Miller

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