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Building momentum: Lee confident 'about ability to win' gubernatorial primary

Zach Vance • Updated Jul 3, 2018 at 10:55 PM

With money in the bank and poll numbers on the rise, Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee was feeling pretty confident Tuesday about his chances of snatching the Republican nomination away from Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd and U.S. Rep. Diane Black.

As part of a last-minute tour leading up to the Aug. 2 primary election, Lee visited rural Unicoi County for the fourth time since launching his campaign for governor to host a town hall inside the Checkerboard Cafe.

Supporters shuffled around the densely crowded restaurant while Lee stood in front of a large Tennessee Vols flag, pitching his message and answering a few questions from the crowd.

The Williamson County businessman repeatedly referred to himself as the only true “outsider” in the governor’s race, with rural roots and executive experience running an HVAC and plumbing company based in Franklin, Tennessee.

He also touted his support for President Donald Trump, promised he would not expand Medicaid as governor and emphasized the need to expand vocational education in high school.

“I would say the primary distinguisher is the fact I am an outsider because every other candidate has worked for the government or has been a politician. And that is a real distinct difference,” Lee told the Johnson City Press after the town hall.

“If Tennesseans want an outsider and a conservative, there really is only one candidate that can provide that.”

A Data Oribital poll, released Monday, surveyed 700 likely primary voters and found that Lee is beginning to close the gap between himself and the two frontrunners, Boyd and Black.

With a 3.7 margin of error, 19 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Lee, 23 percent would vote for Boyd and 24 percent would vote for Black. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed, 24 percent, were still undecided.

With more than $3.5 million cash on hand as of June 30, Lee said his latest tour and advertising campaign is part of his strategy to build momentum leading up to Election Day.

“Our strategy has always been to build momentum in the weeks prior to the election so that when early voting begins, we will be in the strongest place,” Lee said.

“It feels very much like that is happening. There is a lot of momentum out there. These town halls are increasingly well attended. The response from folks has been very, very encouraging. The polling is pointing in exactly the right directions. And so we feel real confident about our ability to win.”

Lee has approximately 40 more town halls scheduled in the coming weeks, many in rural towns and cities across the state.

“We have done the most aggressive grassroots campaign in the state, and we've met tens of thousands of people along the way. I think it's really important to not lose sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, an election is about people going into the voting booth and voting for you,” Lee said.

“You can't just spend the most money, you can't just be up on television the most. You have to spend money and be on television, but you've got to be committed to meeting the people. This is a government of the people and I'm committed to serving the people.”

Many voters at Tuesday’s town hall said they were enticed by Lee because of his positive demeanor, his sincerity and strong faith in Christianity.

“I have said all along on this campaign trail that my value system, my faith in Christ (and) my belief in Tennessee values are critically important. I hold true to that and will until the very end,” Lee said.

Early voting for the Aug. 2 primary will begin July 13 and last through July 28.

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