Now the favorite to become Tennessee’s next governor, Republican nominee Bill Lee reflected on the progress of his candidacy while speaking to dozens of supporters Tuesday at an 8 a.m. campaign event at Blooming Cupcakes & Cake Artistry in Johnson City.
Joined by Johnson City Mayor David Tomita and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, Lee talked about his three statewide tours and how his positive messaging has resonated with voters.
“For those of you who followed this campaign the whole way — most of the people in this room did — everybody knows we weren’t exactly the frontrunner in this campaign starting off. In fact, the first RV tour we had some no-shows at some events. Not one single person showed up,” Lee said.
“The tractor tour was a little better. The faith tour a little better, and by the time we got to the town hall tour, people started showing up and the messaging started getting through. It resonated and people were supportive.”
By the time Lee held his last town hall before the Aug. 2 primary in his hometown of Fairview, over 600 people attended, according to a Tennessean report.
“A year earlier, I leaned over to (my wife) Maria at the Pig and Chick in Hawkins County ... and said, ‘I don’t think there’s anybody here, Maria.’ That night (in Fairview), I leaned over and said, ‘I think we’re going to win, Maria,’” Lee said.
That always-stay-positive mentality, urged on by Maria, ultimately helped catapult Lee over his Republican opponents, and quite possibly into the governor’s mansion.
“My wife and I decided early on that we wanted to stay positive. We wanted to talk about the future, and we wanted to talk about issues, my heart and my vision. And we’ve done that. I hope to govern that way. I really believe bringing people together and not tearing people down is the best way to run a campaign. It’s also the best way to govern,” Lee said.
Despite multiple polls showing Lee with a double-digit lead over Democratic nominee Karl Dean, the Republican businessman, who has no prior political experience, is keeping his foot on the pedal through Election Day.
Following the Johnson City event Tuesday, Lee’s campaign made stops in Kyles Ford, Livingston and Celina.
“People ask about how confident we are, and I’m keeping my eyes focused on Nov. 6, which is why we’re working so hard,” Lee said. “We are going to every single county in the state in this general election, and we have just a few counties left to go. But we feel very good about the momentum and where we are today.’’
With 1 million early votes already cast in Tennessee, Lee said he is encouraged by the enthusiasm across the state.
“I think people realize that this is a very important election and the future of Tennessee hangs in the balance. I’m grateful that people are turning out. Tennessee hasn’t had the best voter participation so anytime we can get people to the polls, that’s a good thing for our state and for our country,” Lee said.
Carter, Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi counties have all seen significant turnout for early voting, especially when compared to other midterm elections.
“I’m just so excited about this election,” Roe said before introducing Lee. “He is going to win and win big. I guarantee it. When I saw the early voting in this area up, that bodes very, very well for Bill Lee and for Marsha Blackburn. Oh, and by the way, I think it bodes well for me also.”