JOHNSON CITY — Tennessee Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Bob Tuke is counting on Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to do one thing this November — get out the vote.
Tuke was Obama’s Tennessee political director when Obama placed a distant second to challenger Hillary Clinton in the state’s Democratic primary.
The reason Obama didn’t do well in Tennessee, said Tuke, was because he didn’t come here to campaign.
“He is going to compete here in the general election,” Tuke, a former Tennessee Democratic Party chairman, said of Obama during a recent stop at the Democrat Resource Center (DRC) off North Roan Street in Johnson City. “(The Obama campaign) simply made a strategic decision, which I knew about, that they were going to focus on Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, and they would gain more delegates by devoting the resources and his time in those states. I have to tell you they were right on the math. They did get a bigger delegate spread.”
Tuke indicated he believes Obama’s get-out-the-vote strength will help him if he is the Democratic nominee to face incumbent GOP U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.
“The get-out-the-vote effort that we would otherwise have to do, which (2006 unsuccessful Democratic U.S. Senate candidate) Harold Ford had to do, I don’t have to do,” Tuke said.
Tuke also feels that his background as a Marine veteran will help his campaign.
He cited Virginia U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat who won a tight race in 2006 against GOP incumbent George Allen, as an example of a veteran who overcame long odds.
“We need more Jim Webbs in the Senate and fewer Lamar Alexanders,” Tuke told supporters at the DRC. “Jim Webb earned a Navy Cross in Vietnam. Jim Webb wasn’t interested in how many deferments he could add up to avoid (military) service like Lamar Alexander. He said ‘I do’ to the oath and so did I. ... I really want to join Jim Webb.”
Tuke is also using the words “high gas prices” and “President George W. Bush” in the same sentence.
“How humiliating it is for the president of the United States to go to Saudi Arabia and say ‘Partners, we need you to supply more oil so we can bring the cost down a bit. ... It’s hurting the economy,’” Tuke said of Bush’s recent Middle East trip to talk with Saudi leaders. “The Saudis handed him his hat and told him to go home. It’s a disgrace.”
Tuke is also backing Obama’s call for a national health insurance plan.
“No one is talking about cutting the private sector out, but the insurance companies right now are taking too much money out of our health care system,” Tuke said. “About 30 percent of the cost of health care right now ... goes to non-health care providers — administrative people and insurance companies. The cost of health care needs to be for medical services.
“(Under Obama’s plan) the insurance companies can bid on being the payor on national health care, but they will bid against a set of expectations. Will they still make money? Sure. Will they make as much money as they are making now? Heck, no.”
Tuke also takes credit for helping establish the DRC, which coordinates local Democratic candidate campaigns and attempts to attract more Democratic voters.
The idea behind the DRC, said Tuke, was part of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s vision for a 50-state strategy to win votes.
“We want to make sure each state has the resources it needs to be competitive,” Tuke said. “I went to Washington and met with Howard Dean and said ‘Tennessee is one of these long states.’ In Upper East Tennessee, Democrats don’t feel like we pay much attention to them. So I wanted to put a staff person on the ground, and they agreed to it.”