Herb Denton and Doris Price talk with Tennessee GOP Chair Robin Smith, right, Thursday at Indian Springs Elementary School. David Grace photo.
INDIAN SPRINGS — Tennessee Republican Party (TRP) Chair Robin Smith stumped Thursday outside the polls for Northeast Tennessee GOP candidates expected to face tough state legislative campaigns in the fall.
At Indian Springs Elementary School, where poll workers seemed to outnumber primary voters when the polls opened right after 8 a.m., Smith touted the 2nd House District candidacy of Colonial Heights Republican Tony Shipley, who will face incumbent Kingsport Democratic state Rep. Nathan Vaughn in November.
Smith also made an appearance with Church Hill attorney Mike Faulk, a Republican who hopes to unseat incumbent independent state Sen. Mike Williams in the 4th Senatorial District.
Picking up both Vaughn’s and Williams’ seats would be a step toward the GOP attaining majority status in the House and retaining its majority in the Senate.
Smith insisted GOP presidential nominee John McCain, a Vietnam veteran who placed second in the state’s February presidential primary, will do well in the 2nd House District because Shipley is also a military veteran.
“John McCain, when you look at where he was in the (February) primary, (former GOP presidential hopeful) Fred Thompson was still on the ballot, and we had a lot of folks who were committed to various other candidates,” she said. “Now where we stand, when you look at a person like Tony Shipley, whose values are very conservative, he is committed to a sound conservative fiscal policy. He’s pro-life. He actually represents the values of District 2. He’ll also do the same in Nashville. This is going to be the kind of race where this guy helps the top of the ticket.”
But in 2004, Vaughn picked up votes from Republicans who also voted for President George W. Bush’s re-election while coasting to victory over Republican challenger Neal Kerney. Vaughn was unopposed in 2006.
When reminded of Vaughn’s past election performance, Smith said TRP is focusing on portraying Shipley as a consistent conservative.
“I think people are going to understand that Nathan Vaughn is someone who has served this area and done so with a lot of popular support, but this is a great candidate challenging an incumbent, and I think people are ready for fresh leadership,” she said of Shipley.
Standing next to Smith at the Indian Springs polling location was House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower, who needs to pick up four seats this fall for Republicans to win a majority in the state House.
Mumpower reiterated that he feels Vaughn has voted “contrary to the values of this community” on the House floor by supporting a cigarette tax hike in 2007.
TRP and Vaughn have also been at odds over Vaughn’s House committee action last spring involving legislation to end state health benefits for General Assembly lawmakers convicted of a felony.
TRP claimed Vaughn “put the financial interests of criminal ex-lawmakers above the interests of taxpayers” by voting to “kill the bill” in the Democrat-controlled House Calendar and Rules Committee.
But Vaughn said he supported the bill and insisted he voted against sending it back to the House Judiciary Committee, although his “no” vote was not recorded on the legislature’s Web site. Five House Calendar and Rules Committee members, including Mumpower, requested to be recorded as voting “no.”
Vaughn’s voting record on this issue, in addition to other votes, are expected to be debated this fall, although Shipley said at the Indian Springs polling location that he will run a positive, message-oriented campaign.
“I am trying to drive up my name recognition by knocking on 16,000 doors. ... That’s the thing we’re trying to do,” Shipley said.
A re-election rally for Vaughn will be held Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Memorial Park.
Both Vaughn and Shipley were unopposed in Thursday’s primary.