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Lee, Black & Boyd make final visit to Northeast Tennessee ahead of primary

Robert Houk, Zach Vance and John Thompson • Aug 1, 2018 at 11:56 PM

Considering Northeast Tennessee’s reputation as a conservative stronghold, it was no surprise seeing three of the favored Republican gubernatorial candidates visit the Tri-Cities Wednesday to cajole voters one last time before polls opened Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black made an early morning stop Wednesday at her Tri-Cities headquarters in downtown Johnson City to thank her campaign staffers and volunteers for their “hard work,” and to urge supporters to “get out our vote” on Election Day. Black told the crowd she was “looking for a big victory at the polls tomorrow.”

She said volunteers like those in Johnson City have helped her campaign knock on the doors of more than 500,000 voters across Tennessee.

“That’s the kind of retail politics that makes a difference,” the congresswoman said.

Black said the low statewide numbers for early voting suggests many Tennesseans are waiting to cast their votes on Election Day. She said her campaign hopes to convince those undecided voters that as a nurse, business owner and former state legislator, “I am uniquely qualified” to be the GOP’s nominee for governor.

“I will hit the ground running,” she said.

State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, attended the rally with state Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, to voice his support for Black’s candidacy. He said interest in for Black’s “grass-roots campaign” has been “phenomenal” in Northeast Tennessee, and expects a strong turnout for her across the state.

Just after 8 p.m., Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, accompanied by a special guest, strolled into the the Jonesborough International Storytelling Center for his last “Roadmap to Victory” event.

Accompanying Lee was NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip, a familiar face to local racing fans for his 12 wins at Bristol Motor Speedway. Waltrip said he and Lee live in the same town, and some of Waltrip’s friends work at Lee’s company.

“He is a godly man, he loves the Lord. He’s a family man, he loves his family. And he loves the state of Tennessee,” Waltrip said about Lee. “He likes to serve. He’s a guy that has a vision and a heart for the people of Tennessee. (Places like Jonesborough) are like his wheelhouse. He grew up on a farm, he’s a farmer, he’s a plumber and he’s just hands-on. I love him. I think he’s a great man and would make a great governor.”

Since announcing his bid for governor in April 2017, Lee’s campaign has gradually built momentum among Tennessee voters by heavily emphasizing rural issues and casting himself as the only “outsider” in the race. While Black and Boyd feuded on television, Lee channeled a “take-the-high-road” strategy.

“All these dishonest attack ads ... They’re a great example of what’s wrong with politics,” Lee said in one of his final television spots. “I’m not going down that road. It’s not who I am. It’s not what a leader does.”

Lee’s months-long effort to boost name recognition and advocate his platform appeared to make headway in a July 23 poll by JMC Analytics and Polling that showed him in the lead by six points, the first poll to do so. However, another poll conducted by Emerson College during the same month showed Lee in third place and Black out front.

When asked how important Northeast Tennessee would be to him winning, Lee responded “absolutely.”

“That’s why we’ve been here so many times, and we’ve fallen in love with the place now that we’ve been here as much as we have. It’s a critically important part of the future of Tennessee,” Lee said.

“It’s been a remarkable journey coming to a remarkable end. This is an absolutely perfect spot to end it.”

Lee started Wednesday on the opposite side of the state in Memphis, where he held a 6:30 a.m. sunrise event at a local breakfast cafe. From there, Lee’s gray campaign bus traversed the state, making 30-minute stops in Jackson, Franklin, Chattanooga and Knoxville before ending the night in Jonesborough.

Lee serves as chairman of Lee Company, a $225 million facilities and home service company, and a Hereford cattle farmer.

There was a sense of accomplishment for Randy Boyd and his campaign workers as he got off his bus in front of Sweetsie Treats in downtown Elizabethton at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“This is the last campaign stop,” Boyd said to the crowd of Republicans who all seemed to know him. Boyd explained the familiarity when he addressed the audience. “This is about the 15th time I have been in Carter County during this campaign. This is the third time in the past six weeks …. As Gov. Mike Huckabee says, ‘watch how they campaign. If they don’t come around during the campaign, you can be assured they won’t be around after they are elected.’”

While reaching the last campaign stop of a long campaign, Boyd told the crowd that this was just the end of the first quarter. “The second quarter starts on Friday,” Boyd said.

But just because he had reached the last campaign stop before Election Day, Boyd was not finished campaigning. He left Elizabethton. According to his schedule, he still has meet-and-greets in Knox County on Election Day.

While in Elizabethton, Boyd spoke to the crowd about two of his fundamental issues, education and the opioid epidemic.

Boyd worked with Gov. Bill Haslam to create the TN Promise program, providing an opportunity for every Tennessean to attend a community college or technical school. As governor, Boyd said he would extend the program, especially with technical education.

Boyd said the victims of the opioid crisis myst be treated in mental hospitals or rehab centers, not locked up in jails.

As he prepared to rebound his bus after the last campaign stop, Boyd told the audience “I can’t wait to serve you as your next governor.”

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