When George Fitch was coach of the Jamaican bobsled team during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, he and his athletes were seen as unwelcome outsiders facing an impossible challenge.
The bobsled team, depicted in the 1993 film "Cool Runnings," may not have won the competition, but eventually defeated 10 world-class teams.
Now Fitch is running for the Republican nomination in the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial race. As he told a crowd of Chantilly High School students recently, his political campaign is facing the same uphill battles as his team did at the Olympics.
"If you believe in something, even if it's just some crazy idea you came up with, do not be discouraged," he said, wearing his Jamaican bobsled team jacket. "Have the conviction of that hope and that dream to succeed."
Fitch may not win his party's nomination, but he plans to prove the naysayers wrong and try his hardest regardless.
"You don't have to win, you just have to cross the finish line," he said.
Fitch has served as Warrenton's mayor for the past six years. During his tenure, he reduced the real estate tax rate from 18 cents per $100 of assessed value to 3 cents. He also cut the personal property tax rate from $2.20 to $1 per $100 of assessed value.
Despite those tax rate cuts, Fitch asserts there has been no decline in government services.
Fitch said that were he to be elected governor, he would cut taxes and government spending like he did in Warrenton. He believes this can be done without reducing services by rooting out bureaucratic waste. He said he has identified as much as $1.5 billion in state government waste that could be eliminated through consolidating agencies.
"I'm the most qualified Republican candidate to run the government in an efficient, taxpayer-friendly way," he said.
FITCH HOPES his anti-tax ideas will speak to the conservative Republican base, drawing voters away from the likely nominee Jerry Kilgore (R) in the June 14 primary election.
He criticized Kilgore for being "beholden to special interests," a jab at Kilgore's large corporate campaign contributions. Kilgore's two biggest donors are Tennessee pharmaceutical executive John Gregory, who gave $250,000, and New York investment banker Thomas Saunders, who gave $90,000. Overall Kilgore's campaign has raised $5.4 million, according to the non-profit Virginia Public Access Project.
Fitch has raised slightly more than $145,000 total, mostly in small individual contributions.
Apart from campaign funding challenges, Fairfax County Republican Committee Chairman Eric Lundberg said Fitch has not done a very good job of generating new ideas or reaching out to voters.
"We appreciate Mr. Fitch's interest, but we haven't seen him taking the initiative to raise issues," Lundberg said. "I'm not seeing any real traction for his campaign."
BUT FITCH said he enjoys being the underdog and believes once voters hear his message, they will support his candidacy.
"They told me my opponent is next in line," he said. "But I believe I have better solutions for Virginia that will make Virginia a better place."
Vincent Thoms, a 16-year-old junior at Chantilly High School, brought Fitch to speak to school's honor society. Thoms said he was inspired by Fitch's assertion that he can defy conventional wisdom and win the Republican nomination.
"He overcame the odds with ‘Cool Runnings,’ and now he's overcoming the odds with his run for governor," he said.