"We were told last year that the left had out-organized us on the web and cleverly used social networking and we didn't," Norquist said.
Now, he believes the tables have turned.
Gatherings still draw heat
The result has transformed August's normally sleepy town hall meetings into riveting reality TV. Halls have been packed, questions have been challenging and at times tempers have run so high that some lawmakers have called for police protection.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., lashed out at a protester who came to a meeting Tuesday with a poster that depicted Obama with a Hitler-style mustache. "On what planet do you spend most of your time?" Frank asked the woman during the meeting in Dartmouth, Mass.
Others are avoiding town hall meetings altogether. "I'm not going to give people a stage to perform," Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, told the El Paso Times.
But for Carney and Taylor — moderate Democrats who represent districts that supported McCain in 2008 — there is no avoiding town hall meetings and the inevitable confrontations.
In Honesdale, Pa., a second metal detector was installed at the county courthouse to handle security for the 300 people who turned out. The meeting was also announced on the local AM radio station, in the newspaper and in a letter that an anti-abortion group inserted into church bulletins.
The meeting stayed civil, but the rhetoric got hot several times in the 130-year-old, un-air-conditioned building as Carney took questions about how the overhaul would affect Medicare and illegal immigrants, and whether government money would be used to pay for abortions.
Barbara Yanchek, 61, asked Carney about the abortion issue. Carney said he would not support any bill that used taxpayer money for the procedure.
Yanchek later said she learned about Carney's meeting on his website, but also said she had attended a meeting held by the Tea Party Patriots the day before in Scranton, Pa., where the abortion issue came up. "Nobody's sending us. There's no one calling us, or telling us to be here or be there," Yanchek said. "This is a grassroots effort."
At Taylor's gathering in Moss Point, Miss., which was also held on Monday, the congressman was escorted from the room at the end of the evening by a protective phalanx of eight uniformed Jackson County sheriffs.
Many in the audience carried six-page critiques of the House health care legislation, complete with page references. One of them, Lenny Emmanuel of Pass Christian, Miss., said he received his by email, but he and others were vague about the source.
In Moss Point, Miss., Taylor's audience grew restive halfway through the congressman's PowerPoint presentation. "Listen to us," one woman yelled. Then a chant began: "Health care! Health care! Health care!"
Some wore lime green T-shirts bearing the logo "We Surround Them," which is the local chapter of the 9/12 project, says Bob Lott, a disabled Navy veteran. The national group is "designed to bring us all back" to the unity felt after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to its website.
Lott said he hooked up with the local chapter by going onto the national website and punching in his ZIP code.
Taylor told the crowd he's against the proposed health care overhaul, but his listeners were only partially satisfied.
"I want to congratulate you for facing all of us," Emmanuel told Taylor. "But if you want my vote, you're going to have to do more than vote against health care. I want you to go up to Washington and tell them how angry we fellow Americans are."
Rick Scott, founder of the Conservatives for Patients' Rights, said he doesn't believe the movement shows any signs of letting up as the August recess winds down and lawmakers prepare to resume health care negotiations.
"We know now what's going on more than ever before," he said. "People are wising up because they're really mad."
Contributing: Susan Page