GOP bus tour comes to Covered Bridge

By Megan R. Harrell
STAR STAFF
mharrell@starhq.com

   Nearly 200 Carter Countians fared the cold weather Friday afternoon to meet and hear Tennessee's republican leadership. A GOP bus tour stopped at the Covered Bridge to spark local enthusiasm before election day.
   Top republican leaders pulled together for the GOP Victory 2002 Tour in an effort to strengthen the party's power in both Tennessee and in Washington, D.C. U.S. Senators Bill Frist and Fred Thompson were on the tour, along with Congressman Bill Jenkins, U.S. Senate candidate Lamar Alexander, and gubernatorial candidate, Van Hilleary.
   Senators Frist and Thompson were touring the state in support of fellow republicans vying for office in the 2002 election. The senior senators told the crowd gathered at the Covered Bridge the reasons why they believe Alexander is the man to fill the Senate seat vacated by Thompson.
   "Alexander will be one of the very few who is elected to the Senate who will walk in there from day one and be a leader," Thompson said. "I have been there in the very beginning of his political career when he was brought in by democrats and republicans to help turn around a corrupt state government system."
   Alexander reminded Carter Countians of his history with them when he was governor of Tennessee, and promised not to forget East Tennessee as a U.S. senator.
   On a more sober note, Alexander expressed his remorse over the death of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. Wellstone was killed with seven others in a plane crash Friday morning. "We stopped in Jonesborough and Sen. Frist led us in a moment of silence, prayer and respect for Sen. Wellstone and his family. It is very tragic and very sad for all of us," Alexander said.
   As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sen. Frist is working to get the majority back in the Senate for the President. Frist stated he was glad to help with Alexander's, and gubernatorial candidate, Van Hilleary's campaigns. He said both campaigns have a considerable amount of momentum in the days leading up to the election.
   "There is no single race that has more momentum, and it is almost dead even according to polls, but we have to remember over the next 11 days to continue that momentum," Frist said.
   Although his campaign has gained recent momentum, Hilleary said he has struggled to stay neck and neck with Democratic opponent, Phil Bredesen. He stated Bredesen's campaign has outspent his own approximately two to one.
   In his last visit to East Tennessee before the election, Hilleary addressed his stance on an issue where local voters have vested interest. Throughout his campaign, Hilleary has voiced his intentions to reform TennCare if elected governor, and his proposed reform has caught the attention of Carter County's large population of TennCare enrollees.
   Friday afternoon Hilleary was careful to point out that both he, and his opponent intend to make cutbacks in TennCare. "TennCare has got to be fixed to save it for those people who really need it," Hilleary said. "Phil Bredesen's position and mine are identical. The only difference is that I think the physicians need to have medical malpractice reform, so they will want to practice medicine in this state and we will have physicians that want to be in the TennCare network."
   After its visit to Elizabethton, the GOP bus tour ended in Knoxville Friday evening.