THOMPSON’S STATION, Tennessee–Williamson County businessman Bill Lee won the gubernatorial straw poll conducted Saturday at the Williamson County Republican Party annual summer BBQ at Little Creek Farms with a whopping 63 percent of the 243 votes cast.
State Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) finished a surprising second with 26 percent of the vote. Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06), who has not announced her candidacy, won 7 percent. Speaker of the Tennessee House Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), who has also not yet formally her candidacy, took 3 percent of the vote, and Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd took in slightly more than 1 percent of the vote.
More than four hundred guests attended the sold-out event, which was a record crowd for the annual BBQ, and a great success for new Williamson County Republican Party Chairman Debbie Deaver and Vice Chairman Stephen Siao.
“While straw polls are not always necessarily reflective of the electorate, tonight’s straw poll provides a good early pulse check of who influential Republicans in Williamson County and other mid-state counties are supporting in the gubernatorial race. Tonight’s attendees included influential conservative activists, prominent donors, party leaders, and over two dozen elected officials. Attendees cast their straw poll ballots with gumballs,” the Williamson County GOP said in a statement.
The raw vote breakdown of the 243 straw votes cast was 153 votes for Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, 63 for State Senator Mae Beavers, 16 for Congressman Diane Black, 8 for Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and 4 for Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd.
“Congratulations to Bill Lee for winning the first major straw poll of the 2018 gubernatorial cycle. We are thrilled to have so many fine choices for Governor and plan on hosting many more events for Republicans in Williamson County to get to know each of the gubernatorial candidates,” Deaver said.
“All announced and likely gubernatorial candidates who appeared on the straw poll were invited to address the crowd and host a booth,” the statement said.
The Tennessee Star Poll of likely Republican voters conducted in early June showed the gubernatorial race is wide open. None of the announced or likely candidates had more than ten percent of the vote, and more than sixty percent of likely voters were undecided.
Randy Boyd’s poor showing was surprising, given his campaign’s fundraising success. His failure to appear–he was the only announced candidate who did not attend the event–fuels speculation that he is, essentially, writing off Middle Tennessee, home to both of the two other announced candidates and the two other high profile likely candidates. Instead, Boyd’s strategy appears to be to focus on his home area of East Tennessee as well as West Tennessee and ignore Middle Tennessee.
Lee and Beavers showed up, but Boyd, Harwell, and Black did not.
“Co-hosts include the Davidson County Republican Party, the Tennessee College Republican Committee, the Republican Women of Williamson County, the Williamson County Republican Career Women, and the Williamson County Young Republicans,” The Williamson County Republican Party statement said.
Little Creek Farms, site of the event, is owned by Bob Beck, a former executive with Bank of America who moved to Tennessee from California because of its strong pro-business environment and no state income tax.
In Tennessee, Beck owns and operates NashvillePremiereHomes, which is affiliated with Keller Williams Realty.
State Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) wore two hats for the evening’s festivities.
The native Texan and long time Tennessee resident served as both the master of ceremonies, and helped provide the musical entertainment for the evening, performing with the band he and his friends formed years ago in college.
Johnson demonstrated his expertise on the guitar, as well as a fine harmony voice, a skill perhaps honed by his years of keeping the peace in the Tennessee State Senate.
Williamson County Republican Party Vice Chairman Stephen Siao tweeted this out during the event, documenting the overflow crowd:
— Stephen Siao (@StephenSiao) July 16, 2017