Eric Cantor's campaign toppled by 23-year-old Zachary Werrell

When Eric Cantor stood down this week as the number two Republican in the US House of Representatives, he would have had a lot on his mind. Chiefly - how had it come to this? A long-serving congressman and majority leader in the House dumped by preselectors, an act never before seen in US politics.

David Brat, a 49-year-old economics professor and Tea Partier, pulled off the most unlikely and unpredictable of victories over the incumbent, despite being outspent about 40 to one.

If Mr Cantor is looking for someone to blame, he might dwell on the victor's 23-year-old campaign manager, Zachary Werrell.

Mr Werrell is a year out of university, having graduated from Haverford College, Philadelphia, with a BA in economics and political science. He spent much of that first year as the lone campaign manager for a certain Mark Berg, who was duly elected to the Virginian House of Delegates. Mr Berg, like Mr Brat, is a Tea Partier who defeated a long-term incumbent in his primary.

Mr Werrell was one of only two paid staffers on the Brat campaign, which he ran using a Walmart flip-top mobile phone. In both of Mr Werrell's primaries, his candidates have seized on policies of their opponents which go against the grain of Tea Party politics. Mr Brat ran hard against Mr Cantor's support of an amnesty for the children of illegal immigrants. Mr Berg vanquished his opponent Beverly Sherwood by railing against a transport plan which would have raised taxes.

Described by his teachers as eager, energetic and with political views "a little outside the norm", Mr Werrell was known to work 20-hour days on the campaign, according to a Philadelphia newspaper. He told the LA Times the primary race shouldn't be seen as Tea Party versus establishment, but rather a campaign fought and won by strong grassroots supporters.

Whatever won Mr Brat the primary, it wasn't money. The New York Times reported the Cantor campaign spent almost as much at steak houses alone as Mr Brat's spent in total.

Mr Werrell may have helped catapult Mr Brat into the history books, but he's now trying to erase his own past. According to Gawker reports, he began deleting sensitive posts on his personal Facebook account within hours of Mr Brat's victory. The page has now been taken down entirely, as has his blog, which is in "maintenance mode". But his Twitter feed and an older, cached version of his Facebook page reveals the 23-year-old is no fan of Obamacare, gun control or abortion.

Mr Werrell's next challenge will be to ensure Mr Brat makes it to Capitol Hill, by defeating Democrat challenger Jack Trammell, who is a professor at the same college, in the November congressional election.

The story Eric Cantor's campaign toppled by 23-year-old Zachary Werrell first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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