They aren't waiting to find out. GOP strategists who spoke with National Journal described a chaotic scene on Tuesday night, replete with 10 p.m. phone calls from worried lawmakers and unexpected late-night drives to the office to plot strategy. Just about every officeholder is suddenly a lot more attuned to his or her own reelection race, and, at least for now, is ramping up the preparations.
"The questions are, 'What lessons are we to learn from this? How well are we prepared?' " said one Republican consultant who has already discussed reelection strategy with several of his clients. "The answer is, you can never be too prepared."
Said another GOP strategist with a history of working on House races: "Nobody is going to want to get 'Eric Cantor'd'. His last name is going to become a verb. You're going to see a lot of scrambling by a lot of Republican candidates that their polling is correct, that they're covering all their bases on the right."
What will add extra urgency to their efforts is a growing belief among Republican operatives that Cantor's loss was mostly the consequence of a poorly run campaign, sabotaged by stale tactics, a wayward message, and — most of all — terrible polling. (An internal survey taken by his campaign showed the House leader up by more than 30 percentage points a few weeks before the primary.)
It's not that Cantor totally ignored his race; he spent close to $1 million in its final weeks. It's just that what efforts he did undertake — such as trying to paint his opponent Dave Brat as a liberal college professor — were inept. "It's like he was running a 1994 campaign instead of one in 2014," cracked one Republican strategist.
Not everyone agrees with that assessment; some point out that it's hard to ramp up a campaign that believes it's up by 30 or more points. But it is the story many Republican operatives involved in House and Senate races are spinning in the aftermath. And that will send their clients looking to make sure they don't repeat the mistake.
"For the past year and a half, [National Republican Congressional Committee] Chairman [Greg] Walden has made a concerted effort to counsel members and their teams, and give them the tools they need to go out and win their races," said Andrea Bozek, an NRCC spokeswoman. "We will continue to do that."
If there's any solace for Republican incumbents, it's that — especially on the Senate side — many of the year's competitive primaries are already over. Tea-party targets like Graham, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, and House Speaker John Boehner have already won their primaries.
But there are still targets on the board, namely Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi (who walked into his runoff race against state Sen. Chris McDaniel as an underdog) and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who until now had fended off questions about his in-state residency with relative ease against little-known opponent Milton Wolf, a radiologist. Within minutes of Cantor's defeat becoming official, Wolf issued a statement proclaiming that the House Republican wouldn't be the "only incumbent from Virginia who is going to lose his primary this year."