Campaign billboards seem to be all the rage in the eastern part of Tennessee. I’ve seen them for candidates for Governor and the statehouse. Now that I think about it, I might have even seen one for a federal race. Personally I have never really understood the point of a campaign billboard. Sure they do raise visibility, but how many more yard signs could one get for the cost of a single billboard? Billboards show that a campaign has money, but yard signs in peoples’ yards add the human dimension. They indicate that the person who lives on or owns the property cares enough about his or her candidate to let his or her neighbors know of their public support. Nevertheless, while driving through Hamblen County last month, one billboard caught my eye. It displayed a smiling image of a statehouse candidate on one side and President Obama on the other. The sign informed the reader that Larry Mullins was a Delegate at Barack Obama’s nomination convention in 2008. The message was simple and to the point. Larry Mullins is a Democrat who supports Democratic leaders like Obama.
The more I thought about the sign, the more it nagged me. Do Democratic voters really need a rallying cry to support their candidate? Wouldn’t a fairly rural community of approximately 60,000 residents have heavily supported John McCain over Barack Obama back in the 2008 election? With this assumption in mind, I decided to check the Tennessee State Board of Elections website. Sure enough, McCain won in a landside, 15,508 votes to 6,807. Like in most areas of the country, I think it would be safe to assume that the President’s popularity has decreased since 2008, so that means an even greater majority of voters in Hamblen County would be against him. It just didn’t make sense to me why the Mullins campaign would tie themselves to such a negative in the community like President Obama.
About an hour ago, I was out driving through Hamblen County and came across the vexing sign once more. Finding a safe spot alongside the road, I pulled over and grabbed my camera. It was possible that I remembered the billboard incorrectly. If not, I could determine what organization or person was foolhardy enough to pay for this ad. Upon closer inspection, here is what I found.
As you can see in the small lettering at the top of the billboard, the Tennessee Republican Party paid for the ad. The sign doesn’t serve as a clarion call to Democrats but rather a grim warning to Hamblen County voters. It is as if the sign reads, “Hey Hamblen County, you overwhelmingly rejected the guy on the right two years ago! Larry Mullins, the guy on the left, strongly supported him then, so shouldn’t you reject him as well now?”
I doubt that few, if any voters in Hamblen County, Tennessee have given as much thought to this billboard that I have. I will admit, however, that it did give me something to ponder until I took the time to discover all of the details. Although I still recommend against campaign billboards for the reasons stated above, maybe a few of them, like this sign in the sky, have some hidden value.