On the day the national Tea Party Express set up camp in his back yard, U.S. Democrat Congressman Bart Stupak, who became the target of health care reform critics, announced his retirement.
The Tea Party Express, which is headquartered in California, had raised $80,000 to defeat Stupak, who is from Menominee. Tea Party Express officials said they had committed $250,000 in advertising to defeat Stupak.
"It sure looks like a 'No mas,'" said Traverse City conservative activist Jason Gillman, referring to Roberto Duran's infamous line in 1980 when he quit his fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. "He was going to lose. We had an impact. There is no question in my mind."
Stupak became the focal point of Tea Party anger when he was held as a blockade to the passage of President Barack Obama's health care reform bill, due to his pro-life views. But Stupak relented and voted for the bill, also bringing in other Democratic voters with him.
Mark Williams, chairman of the Tea Party Express, declared Stupak's resignation as a victory for the influence of the Tea Party movement.
"Absolutely," Williams said. "The Tea Parties had everything to do with it. ... It's a victory for America. That's what Tea Parties are about. ... He became the greatest symbol of everything wrong with Washington. He painted a big red laser dot on his political career."
The Tea Party Express stopped in Escanaba and Sault Sainte Marie on Friday. On Saturday it goes to Cheboygan, Petoskey, Traverse City, Big Rapids and Lansing. On Sunday, it makes its final Michigan stop in Clinton Township.
Michelle Begnoche, a spokeswoman for Stupak, didn't return an e-mail seeking comment.
Rich Carlson, president of the Petoskey Tea Party and founder of the Northern Michigan Liberty Alliance, said the homegrown grassroots activists forced Stupak's retirement, not the Tea Party Express.
"It's not because of the Tea Party Express," Carlson said. "We've been chasing Bart ever since the Tea Party movement started (January 2009). ... I think he saw the handwriting on the wall."
Tom Stillings of Torch Lake Township is running for Stupak's seat as a Republican. He said he wasn't surprised by Stupak's announcement.
"He finally figured out that the only vote he could have got was Nancy Pelosi's and Harry Reid's. He certainly hasn't been doing what the people at home wanted him to do. He abandoned his constituency. And no congressman can expect to do that and survive."
Gillman predicted Stupak won't be the only casualty from the health care vote.
"This is going to be a theme that will be played out over and over again," Gillman said. "They are going to feel the results of their votes from the pressure from the Tea Party groups. It is giving people a voice."