By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Pursuing Medicaid expansion in Tennessee was among the most popular ideas for reviving state Democrats’ prospects during the party’s annual fundraiser Friday night.
Organizers said more than 500 elected officials, supporters and contributors attended the party’s annual Jackson Day fundraiser in Nashville.
The event was headlined by Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. She said the failure of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal to extend health care to 280,000 low income people was an example of the failure of GOP politics in the state.
“Their party is so strangled by the tea party extremists, that even their Republican governor has not been able to get that done,” she said before the event.
During her speech she criticized Republican Tennessee Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black — whose mention was roundly booed by the crowd — for joining what she called the “farcical” House committee to investigate Planned Parenthood.
“It is a real disappointment for women’s health and our health rights in America,” she said.
The annual fundraiser was the first for state Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini, who was elected to the position in January.
Mancini told the crowd that Tennessee is “not as red as they want us to think it is,” and said Democrats must promote their ideas around the state to wrest political control back from Republicans.
“They sit next to you in your pews at church, they wait with you to pick up their kids at school, and they sit next to you in the stands at your college football games,” she said. “They know just like we do that Republicans are unfit to hold any elected office on any level.”
Republicans hold vast supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature, seven of nine U.S. House districts, and both Senate seats. Democrats last won an open statewide election when then-Gov. Phil Bredesen was narrowly voted into his first term in 2002.
Dozens of demonstrators stood outside the event to demand Wasserman Schultz increase the number of debates in the Democratic presidential primary process.
The DNC chairwoman noted in an interview before the event that the Democratic presidential field is now down to three candidates, and that there are five more debates and eight candidate forums remaining.
“We should be focusing on the issues that are important to Americans,” she said. “Continuing to focus on the process rather than our candidates is really taking away energy that we need to be focusing on making sure that voters know what’s at stake at this election.”