Tennessee Democrats to hold virtual fundraiser while Republicans still hope for in-person gathering

Faced with continued uncertainty over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Tennessee’s Republican and Democratic parties are taking divergent approaches for their annual fundraisers.

The Tennessee Republican Party is planning to hold its 44th annual fundraiser sometime between late August and October 22, when Nashville will host the third and final presidential debate. Like every other year, the party plans to have an in-person gathering.

The Tennessee Democratic Party is scuttling any plans for a massive gathering, opting instead to have a virtual fundraiser.

The two different approaches underscore a divide over the pandemic that was similarly on display in the lead up to this year’s August primary election.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first entered the state, political campaigns and Tennessee’s major parties were forced to alter their every activities.

Rather than door-knocking and public events, candidates relied more on virtual discussions. But in recent months, as COVID-19 has hit record levels across the state, Republicans have had in-person gatherings while Democrats have largely avoided them.

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In the coming weeks, local Republican parties in eight Tennessee counties are scheduled to have in-person meetings and dinners. Democrats have no such plans, opting for virtual gatherings, including a national convention watch party on Monday.

“The Tennessee Democratic Party will always prioritize the health and safety of every Tennessean,” said party chair Mary Mancini. “So this year, to protect Tennessee families from the spread of COVID-19, we will listen to the urgent recommendations of doctors, nurses and the CDC and hold our Three Star Celebration virtually.”

This year’s event will be the first virtual fundraiser since the party began the annual tradition more than 40 years ago.

Mancini cited Tennessee’s designation as a hot spot where cases and hospitalizations remain high. Although details of the virtual fundraiser are still being finalized — a speaker has yet to be determined — it will take place on either September 12, 18 or 19, said party spokeswoman Emily Cupples.

Scott Golden, chairman of the state Republican Party, said he is hopeful the pandemic will subside enough to have an in-person fundraiser. In order to do so, Golden said Nashville needs to continue to see a downward trend of COVID-19 cases, which will allow the city to open up for larger gatherings.

In recent years, the GOP fundraiser has attracted between 1,500 to 2,000 guests.

“This year it may be smaller,” Golden conceded.

For both parties, the annual dinners provide members an opportunity to energize their bases while serving as the largest fundraising event for the year. 

Like the Democrats, Golden said discussions about the keynote speaker for this year’s fundraiser are still underway. Possible speakers include governors and members of Congress who remain in the midst of dealing with the ongoing pandemic, he said.

While much remains unknown about the GOP dinner, the party is planning a separate in-person gathering later this month.

On August 29, the party’s State Executive Committee, which currently has more than 60 members, will gather for a meeting in Williamson County. That will be followed by a “delegation celebration,” which Golden said will be a way to honor the presidential delegates who planned on attending the party’s national convention in Jacksonville before it was canceled by President Donald Trump.

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Golden said he anticipates many of the more than 100 delegates and alternates to attend the celebration, including Gov. Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton.  

He said the party originally hoped to have the celebration at the state Capitol but that changed because of Nashville’s scaled back reopening.

“Williamson’s been our refugee boat,” he said.

Overall, Golden said the ongoing pandemic has forced political parties across the country to adjust on the fly. 

“In 2020, nothing has been A to B,” he said. 

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Reach Joel Ebert at jebert@tennessean.com or 615-772-1681 and on Twitter @joelebert29.



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