After exciting a surprisingly less-than-overflow crowd at this year’s annual Lincoln Day dinner by recounting the Republican Party’s successes in Tennessee — including the possession of two U.S. Senate seats, 7 or 9 U.S. House seats, and super-majorities in the state legislature — Governor Bill Haslam cautioned his listeners with a qualifier, preceded by a warning.
The “national situation” was different, he noted. “At the end of the day we have to get better at winning elections,” Haslam said, noting the GOP’s failure in the two most recent presidential elections. He contrasted 2012 party nominee Mitt Romney’s 16-point victory in Tennessee with Romney’s 4- or 6-point loss nationwide.
The governor compared the voting in Tennessee to that in North Carolina, “a little bit bluer than we are” but a state roughly comparable to Tennessee in its demographics. Romney’s winning margin in North Carolina was only 2 or 3 percentage points, Haslam said. “What’s the difference?” he asked, and answered his own question: The Democrats in North Carolina “went out and engaged,” unlike what was the case in Tennessee.
In the Tar Heel State, “they advertised, we advertised, they organized, we organized,” whereas, in Tennessee, “the Obama campaign wrote it off early. We didn’t see all those advertisements….When both parties engage, you see a difference.”
Haslam’s words presumably meant to inspire Republicans to more dedicated and technologically up-to-date efforts locally and statewide, could have the unintended consequence of rousing the currently dazed and near-impotent Democrats of Tennessee, as well.
An unspoken issue in the Democrats’ state chairmanship election, in January, had been this very question of whether, in the current political environment, contesting elections on a statewide basis was really possible. The governor’s North Carolina comparison could serve as an encouragement to them and to their new chairman, former state Senator Roy Herron, who is already, it would seem, adopting an aggressive strategy.
The other featured speaker at Lincoln Day, held at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn location on Central, was 8th District U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, who was probably being seen for the first time by many members of the audience, residents of the portion of East Memphis which was redistricting into Fincher’s domain for the last election cycle.
Fincher, who seems to be making a conscientious effort to appear locally and get acquainted with his new constituents, made remarks of the sort that Romney, inclined toward verbal malapropisms, might have called “severely conservative” but delivered them with the Frog Jump congressman’s characteristic sunny-side-up manner.
Citing an anonymous Democrat’s comparison of legislation for social programs to the ministry of Jesus, Fincher said, “Man, I really got bent out of shape,” contending that the Bible says that “the poor will always be with us,” and it also says “if you don’t work you don’t eat”. He said that Christians needed to take care of each other but it was wrong for Washington to “steal” from some in the country “and give it to others in the country.”
With 2014, an election year, approaching, numerous candidates helped swell the crowd, including a goodly number of current sitting judges, who are up for re-election next year and, one of them acknowledged, would probably be on hand for the local Democrats’ annual Kennedy Day dinner.