Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Grainger County Lincoln Day Dinner

This past Saturday night, I had the honor and privilege of addressing the good people of Grainger County at their Lincoln Day Dinner. Not having an official position with Ed Bryant’s campaign, I was a bit surprised that I was asked to speak for him while the three GOP hopefuls were at the Madison County Reagan Day Dinner, but I was quite happy to make the short drive to Rutledge on his behalf.

Having attended my share of Lincoln Day Dinners in the past, one never knows what to expect. In regards to the crowd, I have seen well over 500 show up, and I have been at events that drew about a dozen participants. Knowing that only a shade over 1,800 had voted in the 2002 Republican primary in Grainger County, I was expecting a small crowd closer to the lower realm of that spectrum. You can imagine my surprise when I pulled up to Rutledge Middle School and had to park in the grass because the parking lot was full nearly 30 minutes before the event was set to start. Dustin Stratton, Party Chairman for Grainger County, and his officers certainly outdid themselves, selling all 250 tickets to the dinner. I don’t think everyone who bought a ticket made the event, but there appeared to be between 225-235 people in attendance, and that is truly remarkable when you consider how many voted countywide in the last mid-term primary.

I admit that I have never had to speak for another person at one of these GOP dinners, so I was a bit nervous as to how the evening was going to go. It’s one thing to have to speak for yourself at an event or even to speak before a judge and half-empty courtroom, and it is entirely another thing to represent someone who you admire and respect through a speech in front of a packed crowd, some of whom probably don’t want you to succeed that night because we are supporting different candidates. My nerves were certainly calmed by the dozens of attendees with “Ed Bryant for Senate” stickers on their lapels. (For the record, I didn’t see one button or sticker favoring Van in this county that he used to represent in Congress, and the only campaign materials being sported for Bob Corker were from his campaign staff. This isn’t meant to be inflammatory; it’s just what I observed.)

As everyone ate, I had a chance to speak with both Jean Corker, Bob’s mother, and Meredith Hilleary, Van’s wife. They both were gracious and kind, although Mrs. Corker kept saying that if I said anything bad about Bob, she was going to be waiting for me out in the parking lot at the end of the night. She was just kidding (I think), as I made it back to my care unharmed, although she surely is feisty.

After the opening speeches and recognition of local officeholders and candidates, the representatives for the U.S. Senate candidates took the podium. Meredith Hilleary was first, and she delivered an extremely polished speech on behalf of Van. Her campaign experience was evident, and one has to wonder how it will hurt Van’s campaign down the homestretch with her due date being so close to the August primary, particularly if we have a hot summer. Meredith’s speech (which apparently Van wrote) might have delved too much into details, though, as I noticed a few glazed-over looks from some of the audience members (which could also have been induced by the excellent BBQ dinners from earlier). There was a local touch, though, as Meredith mentioned her and Van’s first date – the Tomato Festival, one of the biggest events in Grainger County each year.

Mrs. Corker went next. She had told me before she took the podium that this was her second speech for Bob, and that she had asked for the speech not to be too long. It has become apparent over the past month that Bob Corker is running entirely on his exploits as a businessman (the Ross Perot strategy?), and given that, Mrs. Corker’s speech was a nice compliment to the overall campaign strategy. She talked about Bob’s previous jobs and his exploits as a kid. It was nice, short speech, and she represented her son well.

It was then my turn, and I admit that I was very happy to have drawn the last position. I wanted to hear what the other speakers spoke about, the directions they took, and respond in kind. I think that the other speakers (especially Mrs. Corker and those who squired her) might have been worried about my going last, only because they were familiar with this blog, how I can become impassioned about politics, and that this was my first speech on the campaign trail. But that is why I wanted to go last – because an impassioned speech (which I think some might have wanted me to give) would have looked manic compared to the class shown by Meredith and Jean. That’s also why I didn’t write a speech, instead choosing to jot down a few notes and go off-the-cuff, giving me more flexibility.

Overall, the speech went OK. I started with a lawyer joke (incorporating Grainger County tomatoes, of course), and then remarked that I was at a decided disadvantage on this night, having the pregnant wife of a candidate to one side of me and the elderly mother of a candidate to the other. Being a friend of Ed Bryant was wonderful, but there was no way that I could compete with the embarrassing stories that these two women had on their men. I then went through items that would not be my focus tonight, including particular issues (immigration, abortion, education, the judiciary, government spending, etc.) and Ed’s positions on them, Ed’s resume, and his opponents (which I said I would not comment upon given that no good could come of it). The reason that I would not go into those subjects tonight is that there are 5 months left in this, the longest U.S. Senate campaign in Tennessee history. These good people were going to hear enough about these aspects over that time. However, what they wouldn’t hear through the rest of the campaign were two of the reasons that I was supporting Ed Bryant. I then went into those reasons, and then finished with a quote by the dinner’s namesake, Abraham Lincoln. (C’mon- you don’t want me to give away the ending just in case I have to speak again, do you?)

Looking back, I think it was a great night, and the reviews I have received from others tend to make me think it was a good night for Ed Bryant – in both Madison County in West Tennessee and Grainger County in East Tennessee.

As a Grainger County resident, I thought that the evening turned out very well. I thought that you did an excellent job in your representation for our next senator. I also was really excited to find some good support for Ed Bryant. It has made very hopeful that we will be able to win Grainger County in the primary and most definitely in the election in November. Keep up the good work.
Jerri -

Thank you for your kind words. I, too, believe that Ed has a very good chance of carrying Grainger County, as well as most of the rest of East Tennessee.


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