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In Tennessee, Ben Carson, Rep. Blackburn Talk Super Tuesday

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There are more than a dozen presidential nomination contests tomorrow, Super Tuesday, but all of the Republican candidates have made time for Tennessee in the last few days. Each of them has visited the state.

There is perhaps no better place in Tennessee to find Republicans than Williamson County, a wealthy suburban county outside Nashville. In a Marriott ballroom the other night, hundreds of Republicans gathered for dinner, political pitches from the five remaining campaigns and a straw poll.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson attended the event and spoke with Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who represents this area in Washington, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson and a number of voters.

Interview Highlights: U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

What do you think of the race so far?

“I think it is so healthy and so good and shows what a big-tent party we are. You start out with 17 candidates, you start whittling it down. That’s the way it’s supposed to work till you get to your nominee. There is a wide range of opinion in the Republican Party, a tremendous amount of interest, and I think that’s why you’re going to see record turnouts in Tennessee.”

You don’t think that debate damages the party?

“No I don’t. I think it strengthens the party because what you have is people bringing their thoughts and their ideas to the table. Now, would I prefer that the candidates not do some of the personal attacks? Absolutely. I think all of us moms and grandmoms would prefer that. But I’ve got to tell you, the nice thing is you get to see a candidate’s strength, their area of expertise, and you get to know a little bit about them.”

We’re now seeing Marco Rubio start to use some of those personal attacks that we’d only really heard from Donald Trump. Now they’re battling back and forth, talking about who’s sweating more and who’s using more make-up and all that.

“It’s kind of the silliness of the season, and I think that’s the kind of thing that is going to wear off quickly and pass. People are very concerned about what’s going on in the country; they’re concerned about national security, jobs and economic security; retirement security; they want somebody who’s going to get the job done.”

So you would be OK with any candidate getting the Republican nomination?

“You better believe it. I’m going to be working full steam ahead for whomever is the nominee. The goal is to beat the Democrats and to take control of the White House.”

Even if it’s Donald Trump, you’ll work full steam ahead for him?

“Absolutely.”

What do you think of the establishment Republicans who are not happy with what Trump has been talking about and doing?

“Probably they’ve just never been through a political revolution – that’s what I have to say about that. Here in Tennessee we went through that years ago. In 2000, when I was busy leading the fight against a state income tax, and it was kind of a shakeup for us. And grassroots Republicans rose up and took control and all was well and I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen again.”

You think people need to calm down if they are upset about this race?

“I think they need to get excited about making certain that we’re bringing new people to the party.”

Interview Highlights: Ben Carson

Which state do you think you can win, coming up?

“I don’t know, but it will be a matter of collecting delegates going forward. And also, I got in this race probably for a different reason than anybody else did. I got in because I was drafted. There are millions of people behind that and they’re still there and they’re begging me not to get out, and they are still supporting us financially. The day before yesterday we had our biggest financial day since the campaign started. Just to walk away from those people and tell them, ‘I don’t care about you,’ I can’t do that.”

But don’t you have to win a state to keep it going?

“The future will tell you. I don’t know what the future is. Only the pundits know what the future is – at least they think they do. But they don’t.”

What is your dream scenario on Super Tuesday?

“If a lot of people suddenly realize that this is a serious issue, this is not fun and games, I think we could do very well. As I used to always tell parents who wanted to know exactly what was going to happen with the surgery, I would say ‘Why guess when soon we’ll know?'”

Can you be calm and get through this cycle when it seems like the more bombastic you are, the more attention you get?

“Absolutely, because you must recognize that there still remains the possibility that people will suddenly wake up and not necessarily be enamored by personality and bombast but will actually start thinking about logical solutions.”

Reporter

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

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