Whatever else money is the root of, it served as root of all rhetoric Saturday night as Shelby County Republicans gathered for their annual Lincoln Day Dinner at Adam’s Mark Hotel, scarcely more than a week after U.S. Senator Fred Thompson‘s sudden withdrawal from a reelection campaign put their party, and the opposition Democrats’, into a turmoil of of opportunity and confusion.

  • 7th District U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, who was the penultimate speaker of a lengthy evening (introducing U.S. Senat. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas), named money as a chief concern., accusing “a handful of people” in the Nashville area of trying to handpick a successor to Thompson (read: former Governor Lamar Alexander) and shut off the money supply for other Senate candidates (read: himself).

    Asking for money, volunteers, and “prayer,” in that order, Bryant said a contested primary was what American politics was meant to be about, and a race between Republicans would be “good for the party, good for the system, good for Tennessee, and good for America”

  • Earlier, 4th District U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary -- who would address the gathering along with his own GOP primary opponent, former State Rep. Jim Henry of Kingston -- had expressed concern that the new attention focused on the Senatorial race in Tennessee, which had galvanized media interest in the nation as well as statewide, might dry up his money supply. “Not in relation to Henry,” said Hilleary, making an effort to dismiss his Republican opponent, “but in relation to Bredesen.” Former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen is the likely Democratic nominee to oppose Hilleary in the fall if he should prevail, as expected, over Henry.

    (Although it was widely noticed last week that Hilleary, who was endorsed by Bryant several weeks ago, had not deigned to return the favor, the Middle Tennessee congressman may have indirectly remedied that Saturday night, presenting Bryant on the dais with an introduction that concluded, “who will make a great U.S. Senator.”)

  • Money -- or the lack of it for state government -- also figured as one of the reasons for the absence from the event -- perhaps his first ever -- of Governor Don Sundquist, one of the founders of Shelby County’s Lincoln Day event several decades ago. The governor, whose name was not mentioned by anyone from the dais, has seen his support among fellow Republicans eroded significantly by his continued advocacy of “tax reform” -- and of a state income tax, which figures as the primary element in Sundquist’s proposals.

    The governor has continually noted that without a major restructuring of the state’s finances, state government will be faced with drastic reduction of basic services.

    “He doesn’t need the abuse,” realtor Betty Smith, who helped Sundquist and others develop the modern Republican Party in Shelby County, said of his absence Saturday night. “He’ll be recognized eventually as a great statesman,” she said.

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