"We can't leave our troops on the beach."
Ilario Pantano, a former sniper, sat in my office, rolling his shirtsleeve back down after showing me the United States Marine Corps tattoo on his arm. He wasn't showing off. He was making a point. "If my country is worth dying for, it's worth fighting for." Which is what brought him to Washington.
He's put his life on the line in the Marines, and now the North Carolina resident is in the embryonic stages of his second run for Congress. Last year, he fared reasonably well in a district that's been voting Democrat since the Reconstruction. The problems that called him to duty on the campaign trail have not gone away, and the people who had faith in him still deserve an alternative to their current representation. So Pantano feels like he owes them a second try. And with his national-security and economics experience available during a critical time in our history, he owes his country another effort, too.
The tea-party movement, the conservative constituents of his district who got engaged and have, in many cases, stayed engaged, are the troops Pantano was referring to; the folks he refuses to leave stranded.
But there are also troops in Washington D.C., and they need not only support on the home front, but reinforcements as well.
Pantano represents the reinforcements. Because the guys who want to change the way Washington works; to put the federal government on a life-saving diet; to get government regulation out of the way of the American family; to protect the consciences of Americans who don't want their money going near abortions ... they need more votes in Washington.
"I think there was a bit of a grace period granted the GOP leaders in D.C. But patience is wearing thin," Teri Christoph, co-founder of Smart Girl Politics, a cyber-tea-party hub, tells me. "We are looking for accountability from our leaders, regardless of party, and if we don't get it, we'll make our voices heard. ... All it takes is inaction in Washington and we'll be seeing a marked uptick in conservative activism."