Haslam Urges Better GOP Campaign Skills Nationally

By Bill Dries

There were no campaign stickers or push cards at the Shelby County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner, but still plenty of hand-to-hand campaigning Friday, May 17, among the crowd of 350 at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn.


The stickers should be present a year from now when the political community is in the 2014 election year.

And Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told the local Republicans not to get complacent about the party having super majorities in the Tennessee legislature, seven of the nine congressional seats, both U.S. Senate seats and the governor’s mansion.

“How do you not waste the opportunity?” he asked, recalling his conversations recently with other governors in similar situations. He told the Memphis crowd the key is “not to be cocky about it. Not to assume that we will always have it this way.”

“You get in trouble when you start thinking nothing will change and it doesn’t matter what we do,” Haslam said. “At the end of the day it’s about producing results.”

He also said Democrats are still better nationally at winning and Tennessee didn’t see the difference in the skill levels between the two parties because President Barack Obama wrote off the state early in the 2012 presidential election.

That meant a lot of the national activity that tends to animate and help state and local campaigns on a partisan level was missing.

“We have to get better at winning elections. … When both parties engage, you see a difference,” Haslam said. “I honestly think we haven’t gotten as technically skilled as they have at turning out the vote.”

Haslam also said the party can win over voters with the results that Republican governors achieve on a state-by-state level.

“We need to hone our message to say we understand the hopes and fears and dreams of Americans,” he said. “We think we have the right message.”

Shelby County Republican Party Chairman Justin Joy has warned local Republicans that while Democrats are not a force to be reckoned with in some parts of the state, that is not the case in Shelby County.

He and other party leaders point to the GOP’s sweep of countywide offices on the 2010 county general election ballot but then Democrats coming back in 2012 to win two of the three countywide offices on the smaller county general election ballot.

The 2014 county general ballot is the once-every-eight-years “big” ballot that includes nonpartisan judicial races for eight-year terms of office. On the state level, Haslam also will likely seek a second term as governor.

He made no mention of his recent veto of Republican-sponsored legislation that would have made it a crime to record conditions on farms and other agricultural sites without turning over the recording to authorities within 48 hours.

State Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville, in introducing Haslam, praised the governor for his integrity, admitting, “There have been times when I’ve questioned his timing.”

Norris carries the administration’s legislation in the Senate and in the session that ended last month, Norris was forced to withdraw Haslam’s bill to allow the use of school vouchers with limits on their use to students from low-income families attending failing schools.

He withdrew it in the face of a rival voucher bill from Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown that would have broadened the guidelines for using vouchers.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher said despite the Republican victories in Tennessee in 2012, including his own re-election and presidential challenger Mitt Romney carrying the state, he was “devastated” by the national results.

“We’ve got to unite and take this country back,” Fincher added after saying he plans to open a new district office in Arlington soon to go with the one he opened recently in East Memphis.

Both areas are part of new Shelby County territory Fincher picked up in the 8th Congressional district with the 2012 redrawing of congressional district lines by the Tennessee legislature.

He also took a jab at U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat who represents the 9th District and most of Shelby County but lost the eastern territory to Fincher in redistricting.

“You’re going to love this,” he told the Republican crowd. “Since redistricting Steve Cohen won’t speak to me. … It’s true.”