Adam Andrzejewski refers to his opponents in the Illinois Republican primary as “the Redcoats,” while calling his own grassroots campaign for governor “the ragtag army.”
Revolutionary War metaphors come easily for Andrzejewski, whose showing Tuesday in Illinois will provide an early test of the ability of Tea Party activists to deliver votes in Republican primaries during this year’s mid-term campaign.
“The Tea Party movement in Illinois is a repository of the foundational principles of America,” said Andrzejewski, a 40-year-old businessman with no previous experience in politics. “We are sick of Washington, D.C., sick of Springfield.”
Like George Washington’s ill-equipped colonial soldiers outnumbered by the professional troops of the British Empire, Andrzejewski finds himself up against more experienced foes in the gubernatorial race. His opponents in the seven-candidate primary include veteran state Sen. Kirk Dillard and former state GOP chairman Andy McKenna. Yet their experience may actually prove a liability in Illinois, a state plagued by corruption scandals, including the one that led to last year’s impeachment of former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
“My opponents have 100 years of combined Illinois political experience,” Andrzejewski said in a telephone interview Sunday. “I ask one question on the trail: Do you feel Illinois is running well? Nobody in 11 months has raised their hand.”
Andrzejewski says his opponents are splitting the “business-as-usual establishment” vote, while he stands out as the newcomer offering reform.
“Political experience in this election means two things: It means political failure and baggage,” he said. “If my opponents were leaders, they’d have shown it by now. At best, they have not been part of the solution. At worst, shame on them.”
Andrzejewski was an early supporter of the Tea Party movement that began last Feburary in Chicago with CNBC market analyst Rick Santelli’s impassioned denunciation of President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill, a rant that sparked the first rallies. The movement “has coalesced behind my campaign,” says Andrzejewski, who claims 93 percent support among Tea Party activists in Illinois.
Translating that support into victory in a major statewide campaign, however, presents a tremendous challenge — including the geography that required Andrzejewski to spend hours yesterday driving 300 miles from Chicago to a rally in O’Fallon, a downstate suburb of St. Louis. Meanwhile, his Republican rivals have poured massive resources into the last-minute push before Tuesday’s vote, with McKenna reportedly spending $2 million of his family’s fortune on the campaign.
Andrzejewski has relied principally on small donors and online fundraising, including a “money bomb” last week that netted $36,000 — 50 percent more than the announced goal of $24,000. “It’s hundreds of low-dollar donations,” he said Sunday. “It shows the grassroots enthusiasm and momentum for the campaign.”
His comparatively modest resources may actually prove a hidden blessing in the hard-fought primary. While his opponents are inundating Illinois with automated “robocalls” and flooding the airwaves with negative ads, Andrzejewski’s campaign is relying on volunteers to run phone banks and closing out with a light-hearted TV commercial featuring man-on-the-street interviews of voters pronouncing his last name.
It’s pronounced “an-gee-EFF-skee,” reflecting a Polish heritage that should prove another advantage in Illinois. Andrzejewski brought in former Polish president Lech Walesa for a fund-raising luncheon and Tea Party rally Friday in Chicago, and his campaign last week sent out a mailer featuring Walesa’s endorsement to a list of more than 200,000 Polish-American voters in the state.
Andrzejewski says he was inspired by Friday’s remarks from the Cold War hero who led Poland’s defiance of the Soviet Union. “Walesa said that it was impossible to defeat the tanks, the airplanes and the guns of the communists. Solidarity prevailed because their principles and values were stronger.”
The Andrzejewski campaign has caught fire with conservatives online — including Red State, Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, First Things blogger Jim Hoft and Glenn Reynold’s Instapundit mega-blog — and the candidate was featured last week on Andrew Napolitano’s Fox Business Channel program. That kind of New Media coverage has helped compensate for the paucity of attention the campaign has received from traditional media in Illinois.
“The Chicago Tribune didn’t even send a reporter to cover the Lech Walesa endorsement,” Andrzejewski said Sunday. “They took seven sentences, 113 words, off the Associated Press wire.… They’re doing everything they can to ignore our campaign.”
Despite the inherent disadvantages of an anti-establishment campaign in a state dominated by patronage politics, a poll last week showed Andrzejewski among a pack of five leading GOP gubernatorial candidates bunched within a range of eight percentage points, none with more than 20 percent support. Since then, Dillard has come under heavy criticism for appearing in a 2008 campaign commercial for Obama, and Andrzejewski says his own campaign has gained ground.
“We feel we’re either within the margin of error or leading the race right now,” said the Tea Party candidate, adding that he senses “panic” among his rivals in the crowded primary field. “We think 22 percent wins the race. Anywhere from 150,000 to 200,000 votes — in a state of 13 million — will win the nomination. The bar is that low.”
Having put a lot of miles on his truck in the course of a long campaign, Andrzejewski compared himself to another truck-driving Republican.
“Everyone wants a winner,” he said. “Everybody is ready for a Scott Brown experience.”