8 GOP Congressional Candidates Tackle Questions From Citizens
By: Tom Yancey/Staff Writer
Source: The Greeneville Sun
MORRISTOWN Eight candidates seeking the GOP nomination for the 1st District seat in Congress talked about themselves and "issues" here Thursday night in a debate-format event hosted by the Hamblen County Young Republicans. More than 200 people attended the two-hour event at Morristown West High School. It is believed to be the first time that a number of candidates for the hotly-contested seat have appeared together in a debate-type format. Not all candidates in the race participated in the debate.
Afterwards, those present were allowed to indicate whom they would vote for "if the election were held tomorrow." Greeneville attorney and businessman Richard Roberts won the "straw poll" of the audience, garnering 23.44 percent of the 209 votes cast.
Second place was a tie between retired federal prosecutor Dan Smith of Johnson City and Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable, of Kingsport, each with 17.7 percent.
Fourth place went to Johnson City physician Phil Roe, with 12.44 percent.
Voters were asked to write their county of residence on ballots, and Roberts also won the tally of the 136 votes cast by other-than-Hamblen-County residents, with 30 percent. Roberts finished fourth among the Hamblen County audience members, with 12.33 percent. Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable won the Hamblen-only tally, with almost 25 percent, followed by Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters with 23 percent, and Smith with 16 percent.
State Rep. David Davis, R-Johnson City, who, like Venable, also sought the seat in 1996, finished fifth in all three straw vote tallies, with about 11 percent each time.
Bradley Fullington, president of the Hamblen Young Republicans, welcomed the candidates and the audience. He noted that the 1st District race "is a vital race for the Republican party at the national level."
Candidates were allowed to make brief opening and closing statements, and then were asked to answer questions, or given the opportunity to rebut answers by other candidates on a somewhat-random rotating basis, with a timer.
"Rebuttal" was too strong a term for what actually happened, however. In no instance did the candidates disagree about answers to the questions, though they often offered different or additional supporting points.
Roberts was the last to be introduced, but the first to make opening remarks. After thanking his hosts, Roberts said, "Any conservative Republican candidate for Congress is going to stand up here tonight and tell you we must support traditional marriage and the protection of the unborn. "And we'll all talk a lot about the high price of gasoline and the need to secure our borders," which Roberts said are important. "But there's one thing some candidates seem afraid to talk about," Roberts said. "That issue is the war on terrorism. And let's be specific: the issue of the war in Iraq and whether President Bush is doing the right thing in that war. We can start with strong and unequivocal support for a president who has said himself that he has made some mistakes," Roberts said. "But his moral, Christian compass is right on target, and he is leading the fight that gives us the very opportunity to carry on this debate."
Roberts said some political experts have advised GOP candidates not to talk about the war, and to distance themselves from the president with his 30 percent approval rating. Roberts said he has had people give him the same advice. "And I'll tell you what I told them: Thanks for the advice, but you are wrong.'"
Roberts said "running from the president" won't make the U.S. safer, and it is not leadership "That's finger-in-the-wind, cover-your-behind politics as usual, and it has got to stop if we are to win this war and protect the conservative and moral values that unite us all." He added, "You have a right to expect your congressman to have the courage to stand up and be counted on this issue, even if it's not the most popular thing to do. I stand with the president. It's the right thing to do."
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