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Olsen believes conservative appeal will make 1st District race competitive

Zach Vance • Oct 27, 2018 at 12:15 AM

It’s no secret Democratic nominee Dr. Marty Olsen will need some conservative support at the ballot box on Nov. 6 to have a chance at unseating Republican Dr. Phil Roe from the 1st Congressional District seat.

And Olsen is optimistic he will get it, even though historically, the odds are against him considering 1st District voters haven’t elected a Democrat in more than 100 years.

Speaking to the Johnson City Press on Thursday, Olsen said he believes many Republicans in East Tennessee are angry at the way their party has drifted away from some of its core values, such as fiscal responsibility.

“They’re angry that the party they loved for its fiscal responsibility and its mantra ‘to keep government out of your life’ has just morphed into a party that takes care of billionaire businessman. So there are some very angry Republicans out there,” Olsen said.

“There are also a lot of Republicans that said, 'Drain the Swamp,' and they recognize you can't drain the swamp and send the same swamp critters back to Washington again. So between those two groups of Republicans, I think I'll get enough votes that this will be a competitive election.”

Olsen also called this election cycle “bizarre” because the electorate, based on his campaign’s outreach, seems to be completely unpredictable.

“I can walk up to a guy in a ‘Make American Great Again’ hat, talk about term limits and the guy is going to consider me because he really believes in ‘Drain the Swamp,’” Olsen said.

“That's why he hit the button last time (for Trump), and (Roe) had a promise to only serve five terms, which he has broken. So, yeah there are guys with red hats who are going to vote for me.”

When Roe was first elected to Congress in 2008, he pledged to only serve 10 years, or five terms, but as the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Roe announced in February that he would seek a sixth term.

Opioids Epidemic

Olsen also has another thing going for him, his profession.

Considering the opioid epidemic is big issue this election cycle, Olsen could be considered an expert on the subject since his job at East Tennessee State University is to get addicted pregnant women off opioids.

However, while opioids are certainly an issue, Olsen believes our region should be just as focused on those addicted to buprenorphine, commonly known as Suboxone.

“In our region, Suboxone is the drug that's the entry drug. It's the drug people first become addicted to. I know Congressman Roe's last newsletter was on opioids, but he failed to mention Suboxone completely. That's our No. 1 drug of abuse,” Olsen said.

“If you look at our population of pregnant patients, 80 percent of drug withdrawal in newborns comes from Suboxone ... So if we’re going to stop recruiting new addicts, we have to address Suboxone.”

Who would I report to? 

Olsen refers to his campaign as a completely “East Tennessee operation,” with little to no help from the Tennessee Democratic Party.

“The Tennessee Democratic Party is waving at us kindly, but that’s about it. The (Democratic National Committee) is ignoring us. Six months ago, I found that frustrating. Now it’s ‘I win this thing, I have nobody to answer to other than the voters, and that’s a good thing,” Olsen said.

David vs. Goliath

Asked if his campaign could be compared to the “David versus Goliath” narrative, Olsen said it might appear that way outside of East Tennessee, but within the district, he’s been pleased with the amount of support he’s received. 

However, if look just at the amount of money raised by both candidates, it might seem more attuned to that “David versus Goliath” reference. 

During this election cycle, Roe raised $340,114 and spent $485,441, while Olsen raised $135,104 and spent $119,493.

“Congressman Roe has received $100,000 from Big Pharma, and if you look at the physician organizations, which contribute to him, they get a lot of their money from Big Pharma,” Olsen said.

“I am up against the ‘Medical Industrial Complex,’ and again, we get back to who would I report to if I get elected. Well, not the ‘Medical Industrial Complex’ because they supported my opponent. It would be up to me to say, 'There is another way of doing things.’”

Roe has spent some of his cash on a television commercial that just hit the airwaves, while Olsen has concentrated his resources on door-to-door operations.

“We've got three employees knocking doors seven days a week with good responses. So it's been a personal-touch sort of campaign,” Olsen said. 

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