At the opening of Senator Lamar Alexander’s Memphis campaign headquarters Friday, praise for our senior senator came lavishly in the introductions.
First, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell addressed the packed room. He thanked Governor Chris Christie for coming to support Alexander who, Luttrell said, is a “problem solver. He’s at the forefront of seeking solutions.” Luttrell asked the audience to “leave today with a resolve to campaign and get out the vote. We have the message; we’ve always had the message. Let’s make it work and get folks out and move it forward progressively.”
Yes, he actually said the word that is a bane to many conservatives – progressive.
Former GOP chairman Lang Wiseman did not go there. He called Alexander “a thinking man’s conservative who understands the difference between grandstanding and governing.” He then introduced the senator. Alexander returned the compliment. “Lang was my favorite student at UT,” he said. “He had a 4.0 average and a 3 point shot,” referring to Wiseman’s basketball prowess.
Alexander then went on to talk about what’s at stake in the November election.
“If Tennessee gives (my seat) to a Democrat, he will go over to the Republican side (of the Senate) and pick up Howard Baker’s desk, the one Fred Thompson used and move it to Harry Reid’s side. And he would let more happen with Obama’s agenda. But if we elect six more Republicans we can send Harry Reid out to pasture and we can move the country in a different direction.”
This scenario met with applause and hoots. Alexander thanked special guest Chris Christie for coming and said that the two most effective governors in the country are Christie in New Jersey and Tennessee’s Bill Haslam. “It would be nice to have their outlook in Washington.” He then handed the microphone to a slimmed down Christie who spoke easily to the crowd.
Christie, sporting an American flag pin shaped like New Jersey, spoke of the similarities between Memphis and his state, both being blue. “I had to get independent and Democrat votes to win,” he said, noting that he could then balance the budget and address the pension problems as we have here in Shelby County.
Christie said he likes Governor Haslam and looked forward to the Statesman’s Dinner that night in Nashville with him. He turned to Alexander and said “America needs more people like Alexander. He has a track record of standing up for good, strong conservative values.
“He understands that you have to work with what you have,” Christie commented, going on to site his own situation.
“In New Jersey we haven’t had a GOP senator since 1972. It’s a pretty blue place. So how did I get a second term? It’s the same prescription Lamar has figured out. In 2013 when I ran again – in the wake of the 2012 election that didn’t give Republicans many seats – it was bleak. In New Jersey, Obama had a larger margin of victory in 2012 than in 2008. I had to go to places where Republicans are not comfortable. I can go to the Chamber of Commerce, for example, and get cheered and it’s wonderful for one time. But I had to reach out to other places.
“And not just before an election either,” Christie said. He gave an example of a district that voted 85% against him with only 4.7% of the African American vote going to him. “And they call me divisive?” he said, joking that he had united most of them against him.
He went back to the district in 2013 and the audience at a church townhall “was the kind where you might hear one loud clap while everyone else had their arms folded with 550 pairs of eyes squinting at me. But I got two thirds of them applauding after my speech and I got 14% of the African American vote there. I tripled my vote. In the state I also won 51% of the Hispanic vote, 58% of the women’s vote and I was up 7% in the African American vote. That’s what our party needs to do.”
A sprinkling of African Americans in the audience clapped appreciatively.
“Our problems are not partisan ones,” Christie said of the minority communities. “We can come together and fix them. Let’s not start getting dumb now and elect a Democrat.”
The governor ended with a short story. He was speaking with a minister and told him he never quite understood what they meant by preaching to the choir. The minister told him “I preach to the choir so they sing. Then they’ll spread it to the rest of the congregation.”
Christie’s message was not lost on the audience.