Political consultant Jason Fitzgerald helped orchestrate one of the biggest upsets of the 2010 elections, guiding former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino --- for much of the race, a candidate with just a few thousand in the bank--- to a stunning victory over incumbent congressman Chris Carney in one of the nation’s most closely watched races. Carney had millions on-hand, but Fitzgerald credits the Tea Party for overcoming that obstacle and thrusting a conservative into office. This is his story . . .
By August, 2010, the mainstream media and many political pundits still failed to recognize the enormous wave that was about to sweep across the nation. Few were anticipating a GOP takeover, instead predicting modest Republican gains in the House and Senate. But those of us on the ground level of congressional campaigns felt it first hand.
The Tea Party had awakened what Richard Nixon once referred to as the “Silent Majority,” a term that defined hard working people who paid taxes, followed the law, and raised their children to fear God and respect the flag. But these folks were silent no more. For the first time, they became overtly outraged at their government and elected officials, mainly due to a vastly-expanding government and the lack of any fiscal restraint in Washington. Yet many of these officials continued to ignore the Tea Party, and for that mistake, were going the pay the ultimate political price.
That summer, I found myself as the Communications Director for former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino, the Republican nominee for U.S. Congress in the 10th Congressional District of Pennsylvania. As a political junkie growing up in rural Pennsylvania it was somewhat of a dream job, but don’t let the fancy title fool you. I was one of only two paid staffers on the Marino campaign --- definitely not a made-for-TV political movie!
I was overweight (having gained nearly 50 pounds from fast food and pancake breakfasts) and felt outgunned by our well-financed opponent, Congressman Chris Carney. So I kept my message to the media simple: Carney was a liberal who voted with Nancy Pelosi over 91% of the time, whereas Tom Marino was a common-sense conservative who would restore fiscal responsibility to Washington D.C. Oh, and by the way, Carney voted for Obama Care. I said it over and over and over again.
We campaigned across this sprawling 14 county district in what Steve Peoples of Roll Call called “a beat up mobile home named Bessie.” Bessie had terrible shocks and the air conditioning rarely worked. Our campaign was virtually broke and very few people outside of our committed base of volunteers gave us any chance of winning. In fact, on a trip to Washington, we spent a day meeting with several national political pundits, who made it very clear that in their “professional” opinion, Marino would lose.
While Carney was airing prime time TV ads and sitting on at least a million dollars in campaign cash, we got our message out by driving Bessie to as many town fairs and parades as possible --- since we had a whopping campaign war chest of $11,000!
Marino’s goal was to meet as many folks as possible so he could tell his story. “I’m Tom Marino, and I’m running for Congress. I worked in a factory until I was 30, and I want to go to Washington to repeal this Obama health care bill and stop the spending!” Marino would say to anyone who would listen.
People did listen, and they responded to this brief common-sense message. The one factor that the pundits and media overlooked was the overwhelming power of the Tea Party movement and the genuine level of frustration of the American people.
The Tea Party responded to Marino’s message, and was eager to spread it. I had learned from my political experience that grassroots support, while important, could not make up for a huge financial deficit. And I thought that, since the Tea Party was not an “organized” movement, that would be an indication of its inability to influence elections.
Boy, was I wrong!
It later became abundantly clear that grassroots support could generate significant momentum with very little organization. The primary principles of the Tea Party movement resonated because they were inherently American, since smaller government and more freedom were the basis of our nation since its birth.
The Tea Party in 2010 was not a united political organization like labor unions or the National Rifle Association. Rather, at its core, it symbolized more of a vision for America, and it was that vision that folks rallied behind in enormous numbers.
On the ground with Tom Marino, Campaign Manager Dave Weber and I felt momentum building behind our campaign, and finally convinced Washington to conduct a poll. The results surprised the Washington gang --- Marino was leading Carney! And all because of an unorganized movement of concerned citizens called The Tea Party.
The Pennsylvania GOP, NRCC, and several outside groups quickly rushed in and provided us with the support needed to get the message out, and on Election Day, Tom Marino defeated the incumbent by a 10 point margin! Unequivocally, without the early support of the Tea Party movement this win would have never been possible.
The Tea Party movement clearly defined the 2010 election cycle, and could well determine the direction of our nation over the next few years.
The lesson that I learned was clear: never underestimate the ability of the “Silent Majority” to affect real change, especially when they have been pushed so hard that they can no longer remain silent!