Republican businessman Bill Lee raised $1.3 million at his first major fundraising event Tuesday for his campaign for governor.
The event was held at singer Michael W. Smith’s barn in Franklin, according to a campaign press release.
“We are extremely grateful to the voters in Tennessee who are inspired by Bill’s leadership and vision and are feeling compelled to invest in him,” said Stuart McWhorter, Lee’s campaign finance chairman.“We know that Bill’s message is resonating with people across Tennessee, and this is just the beginning of our efforts. I am excited to see what lies ahead for this campaign.”
The Lee campaign also announced that Anna McDonald has joined the campaign as finance director. McDonald is a former finance director for the Tennessee Republican Party.
With no prior experience in elected office, Lee has been dogged about getting his name out, meeting people and speaking on the issues. After officially declaring his candidacy April 24, he immediately began touring the state in his campaign RV. He was one of four announced and likely candidates who appeared at a Rutherford County GOP event May 25. A devout Christian who admires former president Ronald Reagan, Lee is casting himself as a conservative outsider.
Lee, 57, is chairman of the Lee Company, a large construction, facilities and home services company that operates across Middle Tennessee, northern Alabama and southern Kentucky. He also is a cattle farmer. A product of Williamson County Schools, he attended Auburn University, where he studied mechanical engineering.
He has served on various community and Christian ministry boards and is currently president of Tennesseans for Economic Growth and sits on the board of trustees for Belmont University. He is a former member of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
Lee’s focus areas for his campaign are jobs, education and safe neighborhoods.
On one of the defining issue of the race for grassroots conservatives, repeal of the gas tax increase, Lee has stated it is “water under the bridge.”
Businessman Randy Boyd and State Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) have also officially declared their intent to run for the Republican nomination in the 2018 race. Other possible candidates include House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), Congresswoman Diane Black and State Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville).
A new poll released by The Tennessee Star shows that none of the announced and likely candidates has more than 10 percent support among likely Republican primary voters. Lee polled at 4.1 percent. Given the poll’s 3.1 percent margin of error, he is statistically tied with all the other announced or expected candidate, with the exception of Norris, who is just below the other candidates.
Sixty percent of likely Republican primary voters are still undecided, which means the race is wide open.
Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is running for the Democratic ticket. State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) is also expected to join the race.