As voters and volunteers gathered around, McKinley cut the ribbon on his new campaign headquarters during a Thursday event at 236 E. Main St. before celebrating with pizza, cake and refreshments.
“This campaign can only be won through hard work and prayer. I’m humbled by the amount of support I have received so far, and look forward to representing the great people of East Tennessee,” McKinley said.
A Kingsport native, McKinley said he chose downtown Johnson City as his campaign headquarters because most of his staffers live around the area, not to mention it’s one of the most populous cities in Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District.
“My idea for the campaign headquarters is basically to have a place for people to come in, talk, chat, find out more about me, vent if they want to or talk about the issues that are important to them,” McKinley said.
“A lot of volunteers and a lot of people are out coordinating volunteers for us so we’re very optimistic in regards to that. We’re running a grassroots campaign so that’s what it’s going to take. We don’t have the big name recognition, and of course, we don’t have the money like some of the others.”
McKinley was referencing his primary opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, whose campaign currently has $484,035 cash on hand compared to McKinley’s $8,085 as of March 31, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Roe has received significant contributions from the campaigns of House Speaker Paul Ryan, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and U.S. Rep. Steve Womack.
“I’m not part of the status quo. I’m not going to go to Washington and take my marching orders from the leadership there or the people who have the money. I’m going to listen to the people in the 1st District, something that I think has been missing the past 10 years,” McKinley said.
In 2016, the 39-year-old retired from a 20-year military career that led him through the Middle East and even to the White House, where he worked in a nonpolitical role during the Bush and Obama presidencies.
McKinley said he was hoping to debate Roe at a Friday night town hall event hosted by the Patton-Crosswhite VFW Post 6975 in Bristol, but Roe apparently turned down the invitation.
A spokeswoman for Roe did not respond to a Johnson City Press inquiry about whether he would participate, but the Bristol VFW confirmed Roe would not attend. McKinley said he thought Roe might be out of the district this weekend.
“I will participate in any debate, anytime, anywhere. I know that he is not going to want to. He has already said that he’s not going to participate in any debate,” McKinley said about Roe, who is also a military veteran.
“He doesn’t want to legitimize my candidacy, but I have to say, ‘When does a veteran become legitimate?’ When a veteran comes home with TBI, PTSD, no arms or legs or a flag-draped coffin? Whenever you want to run against them, all of a sudden you’re persona non grata.
“I look at it this way: Roe’s not my enemy. He’s an American, and he’s just my opponent. I’ll treat him with dignity and respect, but I will answer the questions that people have. And I think he should do the same thing.”
McKinley said he will continue hosting events at his Johnson City headquarters, including a town hall on Monday at 6 p.m. that will also be streamed live on Facebook.
“People can come in person and ask questions, as well as online and on Facebook,” he said.
“I plan on continuing my weekly town halls on Facebook when I’m elected, and I will do, at the minimum, a quarterly town hall in the district and in person that anyone can come to.”
Based on FEC data, McKinley, Mickie Lou Banyas and Roe are the three Republicans participating in the Aug. 2 Republican primary. So far, East Tennessee State University professor Dr. Marty Olsen is the only Democratic challenger.