Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Claiborne County Lincoln Day

On Friday night, the entire VOLConFamily - myself, Angela, and Leo - piled into the Jetta and make the trek up Maynardsville Highway to Harrogate for Claiborne County's Lincoln Day Dinner. I have no idea how many Lincoln Day or Reagan Day Dinners that Angela and I have attended (off of the top of my head, we've made stops in at least half of the counties east of Knox County and several west of there), but we'd never made it up to the Kentucky border to see our friends in Claiborne County, so this visit was long overdue.

It was a blustery evening in the mountains on the campus of Lincoln Memorial University, but that didn't curb attendance. Claiborne County only has a population as of the last census of under 30,000, which ranks it as the 46th county by population in Tennessee. Being in the meat of the bell curve for population, it was a tribute that well over 100 people made it to Claiborne County's Lincoln Day Dinner. (One has to wonder if the Knox County Democrats, in their county of over 400,000, could rival such a turnout.)

It was fitting that so many people turned out for several reasons. As Claiborne County GOP Chairman Judi Swilling pointed out, the Claiborne County Lincoln Day was the closest in time to Lincoln's Birthday in the state. Also, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander was the keynote speaker, which says so much about the Claiborne County GOP that they could pull in the 3rd-ranking GOP Senator, as well as Nashville talk radio icon Steve Gill. Gill apparently had such a good time at last year's Claiborne County Lincoln Day that, like Douglas MacArthur before him, he uttered, "I shall return." Gill was true to his word, and it was he that introduced Lamar for the keynote.

Both Steve Gill and Lamar Alexander addressed several policy issues in their speeches, including illegal immigration, forced universal healthcare, and taxes, amongst others. Gill made a point to talk about the prospects of the Republicans taking over both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly, pointing to several key races where Democratic incumbents were retiring or were vulnerable. Lamar spoke about the importance of working together to forge compromises with the Democrats in the Senate to get to the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, but he also pointed to the importance of maintaining the 40 GOP votes in the next Congress so that the Democrats would have to remain interested in bipartisanship.

For those who were wondering, both Steve and Lamar addressed our eventual GOP nominee, John McCain. Both urged support for McCain, quite predictably. I can't imagine that any elected officials nationally are going to suggest going against the nominee; on that front, I suppose Steve's support is the more remarkable, given that Andrew Wilkow, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Church, and others haven't exactly joined the "Straight Talk Express." Steve seemed to equate having McCain as the nominee instead of Thompson or Romney as a break-up with your girlfriend, that you have to take some time to vent your anger but can get back in the game shortly thereafter. Both Steve and Lamar pointed to the communist/socialist that will be crowned the Democratic nominee as reason enough to support McCain. I think this is what you'll be seeing on a national level to appeal to conservatives in the presidential race, and I believe that it will work on the majority of them (providing that no third-party or independent challenge is mounted). It remains to be seen if this tactic will work on enough conservatives to make a difference.

Steve Gill made a point of recognizing and endorsing Mike Faulk, who is running to unseat incumbent Senator (and part-time Dale Earnhardt impersonator) Mike Williams in the Fourth District, which is comprised of Claiborne County, Union County, Jefferson County, Grainger County, Hancock County, and Hawkins County. The support for Faulk was palpable, and he received a loud ovation from the crowd. Mike Williams, who never really attended many GOP events when he was a member of the party, was nowhere to be seen.

I did take advantage of a brief moment with Lamar and his staff to ask about the lack of a declared candidate on the Democratic side and whether he thought that Bob Tuke would run. Lamar gave me the same answer that he did at last year's Statesmen's Dinner in Nashville, saying that he was concentrating on running his race, that he was going to run hard, and that his focus was on representing the people of Tennessee to the best of his ability. You have to feel that Lamar has to be feeling pretty good about his prospects right now, as the Democrats are just as lost and unorganized now as they were last summer.

As for my family, little Leo had quite the night. At the tender age of 7 weeks, he has already attended the Knox County Young Republicans meeting (where his father was named Treasurer) and the Claiborne County Lincoln Day. He acted wonderfully at both. I wanted to give special thanks to Hawkins County Young Republican Chairman Kelli Walker for entertaining Leo for a few minutes while her mother and father ate their salads. Leo really was good, although I held him near the exit while Lamar and Steve spoke - just in case. Also, special thanks to Mike Faulk for the lovely gifts for Leo.

Overall, we had a great time. It was good to talk with the Hawkins County contingent, especially State Executive Committeewoman Cecile Testerman and Highway Superintendent Lowell Bean, who sat at our table. (You can see more pictures and commentary from Cecile at the Hawkins County GOP's blog.) The food was outstanding - future Lincoln Days at Jefferson County (Feb. 23) and Hamblen County (March 7) have their work cut out for them to match the excellent fare at LMU.

An outstanding night - and I want to thank everyone who made it possible.

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