MT. JULIET, Tennessee – At the last of three events held in the state Friday, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said he was in Tennessee supporting Dr. Manny Sethi because Washington needs strong conservative fighters.
The support rally featuring Cruz was held at the Music City Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet, was attended by nearly 400 fro all over middle Tennessee who filled out the main auditorium and an overflow room to a standing-room-only situation that started filling up more than a half-hour before the official start time.
The energy started building so that on their arrival, Sethi and Cruz were met with an enthusiastic standing ovation.
The crowd, obvious supporters of President Trump, seemed to be completely over the bitter rivalry between Cruz and then-candidate Trump during the 2016 presidential preference primary.
The church’s Pastor Ben Graham welcomed attendees as they arrived and then opened the rally with a prayer.
Former State Rep. Joe Carr, who earlier in the month endorsed Sethi and just last week held a fundraiser featuring U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), accompanied the candidate and Cruz to the event.
He said it was prophetic that the day was ending in the house of the Lord, because the campaign was based in the values of faith.
Carr basically said he originally had no intention of getting involved in the race, having run himself in the Republican primary against Senator Lamar Alexander in 2014. Over a period of more than a month, however, Carr said he received calls from the other leading U.S. Senate Republican candidate, Bill Hagerty, saying he needed Carr’s support.
Carr told the audience, “The more Bill [Hagerty] talked, the more I listened to Manny Sethi.”
Acknowledging former State Senator Mae “Iron Lady” Beavers who was in the audience, Carr went on to say, “You can ask Mae Beavers, we don’t have enough constitutional conservatives in the Tennessee General Assembly or the U.S. Senate. We have been fighting to get people like this man and this man,” Carr said of Cruz and Sethi, “in places of leadership.”
Carr mentioned his 2014 U.S. Senate bid, the 271,000 votes he received in the Republican primary and winning middle Tennessee.
“We’ll do it again by an even bigger margin,” predicted Carr of Sethi’s primary effort.
Carr concluded his remarks by quoting Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore, put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything” ending the quote with his signature “stand firm.”
He added, “Dr. Manny Sethi knows how to stand firm,” as Sethi then came to the stage.
Sethi said that he started nearly two years ago with a conservative message and taking on “the establishment.”
“This movement,” he said, “is bigger than me now. It’s about YOU.”
Being two weeks away from victory, Sethi said, “They’re going to throw so much at us.”
He alluded to the attack ads and said, “We need to stand firm, as Joe says.”
Sethi said his faith has lead him and that his life, being the son of immigrants and now running for U.S. Senate, is the American story.
Referring to his campaign slogan of taking on the machine, Sethi introduced Cruz to the cheering crowd as one who also took on the machine.
“God bless the great state of Tennessee,” Cruz began, acknowledging that without Tennessee, Texas wouldn’t exist, joking that he needed to say that otherwise the attendees would.
A skilled public speaker, Cruz was at ease, giving plenty of conservative red meat to the audience with a healthy touch of humor. The audience was very receptive and responded with a comfortable familiarity somewhat reminiscent of President Trump’s rallies.
About the state’s U.S. Senate race, Cruz said, “The entire country has its eyes on Tennessee. This election has Washington D.C. freaking out. They’re terrified.”
He explained, “You have to understand what Washington wants. Washington wants senators that will go with the flow, that aren’t going to rock the boat, that aren’t going to cause any trouble, that will just quietly get absorbed into the swamp.”
“If you look at Washington, right now we need strong conservative fighters. That’s the reason I’m here. I’m here supporting Dr. Manny, because we need reinforcements. We need someone who will go to Washington and tell Washington ‘I don’t work for you, I work for the men and women of Tennessee.’”
Cruz said that the Washington swamp is predictable in always telling who they are scared of, as indicated by them “dropping cash into the state of Tennessee by the helicopter.”
“They can do money,” acknowledged Cruz. “They’ve got a lot of money.”
“What they can’t do, is actual grassroots activist and conservatives,” Cruz said to applause and cheering.
After a few additional comments and jokes, he lowered his voice and the room became quiet, “The men and women in this room, that’s change, that’s power, that’s truth,” he said silently counting off on three fingers.
“And, what’s happening in Tennessee is powerful right now.”
Cruz also encouraged that the seemingly endless stream of television attack ads should be worn as “a badge of honor.”
“If they’re not shooting at you, you’re not doing much,” said Cruz.
Until election day August 6, Cruz said, “Every time you see an attack ad, I want you to stop and smile at what are they telling you.”
Cruz said it’s an indication that they are scared.
“They’re scared because something is happening, something powerful is happening here in Tennessee. It is the power of the men and women in this room, it is the power of Americans fighting for freedom, it is the power of Americans defending our nation, and we will prevail, and we will persevere and we will defend the United States of America,” said Cruz as his voice was drowned out by applause and cheering along with the waving of small American flags that hand been handed out.
After a little more than a half hour continuing along the theme of American greatness and his support for the candidate, Cruz and Sethi left the stage and took questions from the press in a separate room.
Cruz started with a few comments, saying it was great to be back in Tennessee and reiterating that this Senate race has really captured the attention of the country even though just a few weeks ago, everyone was told this wasn’t supposed to be a race.
He said the people of Tennessee are getting excited because, “We want the next Senator from Tennessee to be a strong principled, conservative fighter who isn’t captive to the party bosses in Washington, but works for the men and women of Tennessee.”
Cruz told reporters he got on board with Sethi’s campaign when Jim DeMint, the leader of conservatives in the Senate for a long time, and his friend Dr. Rand Paul both got excited about the campaign.
Despite President Trump having endorsed his former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty for the Senate seat, Cruz said his endorsement of Sethi is not anti-Trump.
“Precisely the opposite,” Cruz stated.
He said that the way the Washington swamp defend themselves is they claim to be what they’re not.
“The more moderate, more establishment the candidate is, the more they claim on the campaign trail they’re going to fight alongside Donald Trump,” Cruz observed.
Cruz said he believes the voters of Tennessee understand that.
“They understand that if you want someone to take on the swamp, then you need a candidate that isn’t backed by the swamp.”
When Cruz was asked if he was considering running for president again in 2024, he didn’t answer the question directly, but touted the economic accomplishments during President Trump’s first two years in office when Republicans also held the U.S. House and Senate.
He said his focus between now and November is to win the election by helping the President get re-elected and helping Sethi get elected.
Cruz went on, “I want to take the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi’s hands, because we accomplished a great deal with a Republican House and a Republican Senate all of which ground to a halt two years ago when Democrats took the House, and they stopped passing every meaningful piece of legislation and the only thing they did was impeachment.”
“I think we need to focus on results for the people, so that’s very much my focus and I’ll tell you I’m committed to the fight today, I’m committed to that fight tomorrow and I’m committed to that fight in the future,” concluded Cruz.
Sethi, questioned as to whether he was “keeping people safe” during the rally relative to COVID-19, said that at the events masks and hand sanitizer are available and social distancing is encouraged.
“It’s an individual choice and I think that’s what’s important to recognize. I don’t think government should be mandating masks or anything,” said Sethi.
When asked what concerns Tennesseans are expressing about their day-to-day lives, Sethi said it is multiple things, but the sense he gets is, “As Senator Cruz was saying, people are sick and tired of the Washington swamp, of these Washington insiders who say one thing and do another. They don’t want Mitt Romney’s best friend in the U.S. Senate.”
He rattled off several other issues including the availability of broadband in rural Tennessee with kids not going to school, the opioid crisis and the “one-size-fits-all federal solution” as well as the frustration with trillions of dollars being thrown out of helicopters in stimulus packages that are not getting to the hands of the small businesses that actually need them.
In addition to getting government out of the way, Sethi said, “People are just basically sick and tired of the do-nothing Washington Republican establishment and the swamp.”
Sethi expressed disappointment by the negative campaign his opponent is running, adding that his campaign just needs to stay on television and keep doing the things they’re doing.
“As they launch millions of dollars of attack ads through Mitt Romney’s national finance network that the Ambassador’s tying into and putting up a bunch of lies and mistruths, number one, I think Tennesseans will reject that because people don’t like negative campaigning and secondly you have to combat that and get your own message out,” said about the final days of the campaign.
Once Cruz left the building, Sethi returned to the sanctuary for a meeting and greet that lasted more than a half-hour with the remaining rally attendees, who were numbered in the dozens.
Earlier in the day, Cruz attended events in support of Sethi in Jonesborough and Knoxville.
Early voting for state and federal primaries and county general elections, which is currently underway, continues until August 1, with election day being Thursday, August 6.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.