A report from Hank Hayes:
KINGSPORT — Candidates to appear weren’t named, but a Nashville-based conservative group announced plans Thursday to stage a GOP presidential debate at the MeadowView Marriott this fall.
Conservatives On The Move (COTM) is hoping 3,000 seats to be sold for either $50 or $25 apiece will be filled for the debate, scheduled to happen at 2 p.m. on Oct. 15.
“The number one question we get is: Who’s coming?” Fabian Story, executive director of COTM’s political action committee (PAC), said before a few event supporters at MeadowView. “Our policy is we’re not going to reveal who’s accepted or declined until every candidate has had an opportunity to either accept or decline. At this point, the only candidate that has declined our invitation has been (former Massachusetts Gov.) Mitt Romney. … We have several candidates who have confirmed but have asked we not release their names until they put it on their fall calendars.”
In addition to Romney, declared GOP presidential candidates include Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
COTM is also holding a 2,000-seat dinner later that night at MeadowView featuring television commentators Karl Rove and Oliver North, in addition to GOP U.S. Rep. Phil Roe of Northeast Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District and state Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport.
Story said tickets are being sold separately for the events. The dinner tickets are being sold for $200 apiece and $2,000 to sit at the keynoters’ table. The $50 debate tickets are for those closest to the speakers, while the $25 tickets were called “gallery seating.”
Proceeds going to the PAC will support a “Constitution 101” and civics curriculum and conservative political candidates in the 2012 election cycle, Story noted. Money going to COTM’s nonprofit effort will support “Financial Peace University” trademarked by personal finance expert Dave Ramsey, Story added.
When asked how many tickets have been sold to the dinner, Story replied: “I don’t have an exact number. ”
Story said Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Blountville Republican who expressed skepticism that the debate would occur, will deliver a video message at the dinner.
The debate, said Story, will be emceed by former Knoxville radio talk show host Terry Frank, while the moderator has been narrowed down to three unidentified people.
Neither Story nor COTM President Lonnie Spivak would say how much money in appearance fees is being paid to Rove or North.
Spivak directed those wanting to buy tickets to the dinner to go to www.conservativesonthemove.org. Those wishing to buy tickets to the debate should go to www. conservativesonthemovepac.com .
COTM had attempted to stage a dinner last April in Nashville.
“There were some issues between us and participating parties, and we decided mutually to cancel it and move it to Kingsport. We had an event scheduled for this time of year anyway,” said S t o r y.
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips, who was at MeadowView for the debate announcement, said: “Anytime someone is willing to bring 3,000 people to Kingsport, we get excited. … I wish you the best of luck in pulling this off, and I think you’ll find Kingsport to be an outstanding host city.”