The checks dropped into the glass bowl one after the other at the Mountain City Club on Monday.
The fundraiser, held for state Senate candidate Todd Gardenhire, was attended by approximately 50 Republicans from around Hamilton County, many with prominent names and titles. The most recognizable person on hand was Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who implored his fellow party members to consider the big picture when putting their dollars behind Gardenhire in Senate District 10.
"We have a legitimate shot of picking up six more state Senate seats across the state," Ramsey said. "It could be 26-7 when we go back. And if you had told me that a few years ago, I would have thought you must be smoking dope or something."
Ramsey offered little commentary that pertained to Gardenhire himself, who faces Chattanooga City Councilman Andraé McGary in November's election. Instead, the right-hand man to Gov. Bill Haslam placed his emphasis on the possibility of a Republican-dominated General Assembly, with the likelihood for a supermajority becoming more realistic after this year's GOP-administered redistricting.
"We've got an unprecedented opportunity this year," he said. "We redrew the lines here in Tennessee .… We un-gerrymandered what the Democrats had done."
The 10th Senate District, which once included Democratic portions of Marion County, was shifted to include red-leaning parcels of Hamilton and Bradley counties in January. Sen. Andy Berke, who has represented the district since 2007, announced he would not seek re-election to the seat shortly after the maps were unveiled—instead choosing to wage a candidacy for Chattanooga mayor.
Ramsey was not the only Republican to boast of his party's strength at the $250-per-person lunch. While introducing Ramsey, State Sen. Bo Watson championed his party's current hold on all three of the state's branches of government.
"For the first time in Tennessee, you have a Republican in the governor's seat, a Republican in the speaker of the House seat and a Republican in the speaker of the Senate seat, Republicans in all three branches of government. This does not happen by chance; it is not luck—it is through proper planning and preparation."
Gardenhire made little mention of the chance his candidacy lent toward having a filibuster-proof Senate next year, only mentioning during brief remarks that his primary goal would be to "do a good job" if elected to represent an estimated 200,000 district constituents next month. By the end of the lunchtime event, a Gardenhire staffer estimated that between $12,000 and $14,000 had been raised for the first-time candidate's campaign.
McGary, who has yet to find a similar backing from Democrats at the state level, said he thought Ramsey's appearance and remarks at the fundraiser were indicative of the role Gardenhire had settled on having if he is sent to Nashville next year. The candidate called the prospect of a GOP-supermajority a "very frightening" idea, lending itself to the possibility for waste and entitlement.
"Let's not forget that Lt. Gov. Ramsey was responsible for cutting Bradley County in half, for cutting out Cleveland from the district and pushing for a Republican supermajority," McGary said. "He's not interested in representation; he's interested in 'my way or the highway.' That's the same approach and mentality that Mr. Gardenhire aligns himself with, and I think it's a great disservice and disrespect to the constituents in District 10."
The two candidates were scheduled to appear at a political forum at Cleveland State Community College on Monday night, their second meeting.
Monday's fundraiser at the Mountain City Club is the first of several on Gardenhire's agenda in coming weeks. The Gardenhire campaign said it had a reception on Signal Mountain scheduled for tomorrow, followed by a fundraiser for the candidate later this week in Bradley County.
Gardenhire will also receive backing from one of Tennessee's federal representatives next week when he holds a fundraiser at a Lookout Mountain home with Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.
McGary said he had no fundraising events planned at this time and was instead focusing his campaign strategy on making personal contact with voters every day.