Inside the Roche "war room"
Norm Roche, 48, a Republican, on Tuesday became the first challenger to oust a Republican since 1992 by beating Democrat Calvin Harris. The former county utility employee had lost three past runs as a Democrat, but switched to the GOP. With most attention focused on Bob Hackworth's run against County Commissioner Susan Latvala, Roche was given little chance.
"I think losing three times should be a prerequisite," Roche said.
His campaign "war room" was half his garage in his single-story unincorporated Pinellas home, more a man cave. He was outraised 6-to-1. Even as results favored him, he left behind his cell phone for dinner and a shower. Then he and family waited for the final results to display on TV.
"I want to see the check mark," said his proud wife, Joy, as results scrolled on TV about 9 p.m.
It was a far cry from the 350-person banquet hall where the Pinellas County Republican Party -- which never reallty embraced him -- celebrated an array of success. While Roche had said party leaders were pleasant -- they even included him on a mailer about their slate -- they also didn't help him out much. Some party big-wigs, such as Jack Latvala, supported Harris.
Republicans started running better and better by October, and Roche benefited. By the time Harris supporters started worrying publicly about Harris's campaign strategy, Hackworth was fading and Roche doing better.
While Roche downplayed the party switch, he campaigned on the same anti-tax, hawkish approach that ripped county's government rapid spending and steep decline the past decade. Harris, meanwhile, stuck to a low key approach that focused on bringing jobs to the county.
Roche said more people started to become engaged about what he wanted to do.
"I don't think our tax dollars come in on blue or red paper," said Roche, who promised to not be a "go along to get along" commissioner.
Roche said he will stop working his safety and marketing coordinator job at a geotechnical company. He will join the board this month with a range of high-power issues on the table, such as light rail. He promised to seek more transparency from county government.