The tradition of presidential-election years holds that the American electorate really doesn't begin to pay serious attention to the candidates' campaigns until Labor Day has come and gone. That holiday happens this weekend, and the local branches of the two major parties got a running start on things with events held last week.
The Republicans brought out some of their leading lights Tuesday night at the annual Master Meal banquet of the East Shelby Republican Club, the county's largest. First up on the dais at the Great Hall in Germantown was David Kustoff, who recently won the GOP nomination for the 8th District congressional seat and, given the Republican propensities of that district these days, has every expectation of serving in Washington next year.
Kustoff made it clear that he hopes to do so in tandem with a President Donald J. Trump, to whose candidacy he gave unstinting verbal support. Though the brash New York billionaire has had highly publicized trouble gaining traction, even in pockets of his own Republican base, Kustoff said predictions of a Trump defeat by Hillary Clinton were the results, essentially, of myopia on the part of an unsympathetic media, and he called the roll of candidates, ranging from Ronald Reagan to current Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who, he said, had won out despite negative forecasts in the press.
Kustoff's commitment to the cause of Trump was further embodied in the opening on Wednesday night of this week of a "combined election headquarters" at 1755 Kirby Parkway, housing the "Kustoff for Congress" campaign as well as Trump's Memphis-area efforts and the campaigns of other local GOP candidates.
Also toeing the line for a top-to-bottom Republican effort at the Master Meal were state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, and visiting state GOP executive director Brent Leatherwood, although Luttrell, who had also sought the GOP nomination in the 8th, gallantly focused most of his praise on Kustoff.
Perhaps the most telling commentary Tuesday night came from Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland of Millington, who earned a Trump-like shoot-from-the-mouth reputation of his own during his rise as a political figure. Against all expectations, Roland, who has already launched a campaign to be elected county mayor in 2018, became something of a conciliator — enough so that, as he neared the formal end of his one-year term as chairman on Monday of this week, he received standing ovations from his commission colleagues at each of the legislative body's last two public meetings. By way of suggesting that Trump's own rough edges might smooth out during a term as president, Roland, who is West Tennessee chairman of the Republican nominee's campaign, said of Trump, "Folks, six years ago, that was me!"
• For their part, a sizeable swath of the county's Hillary Clinton supporters turned out last Wednesday night at a standing-room-only meeting of the Germantown Democratic Club that required the opening of a partition to combine two separate meeting rooms at Coletta's Restaurant on Appling Road.
Among those present for the occasion were Tyler Yount of Chattanooga, a statewide organizer for the Clinton campaign, and Rickey Hobson of Somerville, the Democratic nominee in the 8th District congressional race. Although attendees of the recent Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia were there to recount their experiences at the convention, the main focus of the meeting was that of organizing a get-out-the-vote effort in Shelby County.
Although the long-troubled Shelby County Democratic Party organization is temporarily defunct after its decertification week before last by state Democratic chair Mary Mancini, and apparently won't be reconstructed until a local party convention can be held in March, various informal Democratic groups — the Germantown Democrats, the Democratic Women of Shelby County, and the county's Young Democrats among them — seem intent on organizing a significant GOTV effort.
According to Germantown Democratic Club president Dave Cambron, a headquarters to house a coordinated local Democratic campaign will be opened on Poplar soon.