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Hank Hayes • Jul 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLUFF CITY — Former Tennessee Democratic U.S. Sen. Jim Sasser insisted Saturday that a Memphis newspaper report indicating he might support GOP presidential nominee John McCain is not true.

The Memphis newspaper report suggested Sasser might support McCain if his friend, FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith, was offered a job in McCain’s administration.

Sasser, while attending a Sullivan County Democratic Women’s picnic, said he would be “very anxious” if McCain was president of the United States.

“I’m not going to vote for him and I’m not going to support him,” Sasser said of McCain.

Sasser said McCain’s opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, must campaign in Tennessee and take advantage of the public’s desire for change to win the state.

“People are worried about the direction the country is going, they’re worried about the economy, they’re worried about their jobs, they’re worried about what’s going to happen in foreign affairs in Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan,” Sasser said. “(Obama) has to persuade the electorate in Tennessee that he is the instrument for change and he can deal with these problems.”

Sasser’s son, Gray, is the chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Sasser’s wife, Mary, was the picnic’s main speaker and noted the Democrat-led federal government had a $5.6 trillion surplus before GOP President George W. Bush took office.

“Just think what we could have done with that surplus,” she said. “We could have had at this time medical care for every American, a quality education for our children. We could have had a strong infrastructure. We could have had bridges that don’t collapse. We could have had levees that don’t break.

“You don’t hear the Republicans bragging about their history. How could you begin to explain (former presidents) Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon or George W. Bush? One thing that George W. Bush never figured out was you need to learn from history to build on the future. That’s one thing Barack Obama understands.”

Jim Sasser said he believes predictions that U.S. Senate Democrats will build on their narrow majority by adding seven to eight new members in this election year.

“We need a new Democratic senator from the state of Tennessee,” he told Democrats at the picnic.

Three viable Democratic candidates — former Knox County Clerk Mike Padgett, former Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Bob Tuke and Nashville businessman Kenneth Eaton — are vying in the August primary to face incumbent GOP U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander this November.

Jim Sasser indicated Alexander and Tennessee GOP U.S. Sen. Bob Corker switched their votes last Wednesday to side with Senate Democrats on a bill to prevent a 10 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians.

Senate Democrats, Sasser said, needed 60 votes to prevent a filibuster.

“After (ailing Massachusetts U.S. Sen.) Ted Kennedy walked into the chamber, the Republicans were taken by great surprise,” Sasser said. “(Alexander and Corker) ran down and changed their votes to vote on the winning side so it would appear they sided with Medicare against the health insurance companies.”

In a joint release issued after the vote, Alexander and Corker said an agreement to reinstate the Regional Medical Center at Memphis’ ability to be reimbursed for treating Medicaid and uninsured patients from Arkansas and Mississippi allowed them to vote in favor of the Medicare bill.

State legislative candidates at the picnic, like state Rep. Nathan Vaughn, asked for help in their campaigns.

“Boy, there is going to be a ton of lying going on this fall, folks,” said Vaughn, D-Kingsport, who is expecting a contentious race against 2nd House District GOP challenger Tony Shipley. “Don’t be frightened by it and don’t believe it. Somebody said Nathan’s values aren’t consistent with the values of the people of Sullivan County. I’ll put my values against anybody representing Sullivan County.”

First Congressional District Democratic hopeful Rob Russell of Kingsport also asked for help.

“I am the middle class, and that’s who I want to fight for in Congress,” Russell, a teacher and administrator, said. “I think we have a lot of secret Democrats out there right now. There are more choices than just (1st Congressional District GOP challenger Phil) Roe or (incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. David) Davis.”

For more about the Sullivan County Democratic Party go to www.sullivandems.org.

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