(WBIR – KNOXVILLE) Knoxville will welcome not one, but two presidential candidates to town this weekend.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, both Republicans, are holding two separate events, which are free and open to the public.
On Friday afternoon, Greg Butcher and some of his fellow members of the UT College Republicans group painted the Rock on campus to welcome the former Florida leader ahead of his Saturday visit.
“We just kind of had the big ‘J-E-B’ and then his exclamation mark,” Butcher said, having to describe the Rock, since it had already been re-painted within hours, with a game-day scene.
“I think a selfie with Jeb is about as good as it gets,” Butcher said, anticipating a lot of crowd interaction for the candidate.
The Jeb Bush Tailgate will start 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Humanities Plaza on UT campus.
“This is a great opportunity for him to meet some UT students, meet some UT fans and, you know, just interact with some Vols,” Butcher said.
Although UT College Republicans doesn’t back any particular GOP candidate, Butcher, personally, is behind Bush.
“We’re college students, we want to graduate, we want to get jobs, and I think his record is one of creating 1.3 million net new jobs as Florida’s governor, and so that’s really exciting to hear him spread that record here in Tennessee,” Butcher said.
On Sunday, Books-A-Million on Kingston Pike in West Knoxville will be packed ahead of Dr. Ben Carson’s 7 p.m. book signing.
Customers must buy at that Books-A-Million a copy of Carson’s new book, A More Perfect Union. They’ll get a ticket, which gives them a place to stand in line.
However, those tickets are only available so long as the books are in stock, and copies are selling quickly.
“The book went on sale on Tuesday, and people have been buying it ever since,” Books-A-Million general manager Stephanie Sloan said Friday afternoon, at which point the store had already sold more than 500 copies.
“We definitely encourage everybody to come before Sunday, to go ahead and get their book and guarantee themselves a ticket,” Sloan said.
That’s what Tim Carmical and his wife did Friday afternoon.
“If I have to wait for a couple of hours, that’ll definitely be worth the opportunity to get to meet him,” Carmical said while paying for the book. “I’m just excited that he’s coming to the East Tennessee area, so that, you know, kind of the spotlight is on East Tennessee for a couple of days.”
He said he’s still deciding between a number of candidates and likes what Carson has to say.
“I think he definitely brings a uniqueness to the Republican Party,” Carmical said. “He’s not a typical politician.”
Mark O’Gorman, political science professor at Maryville College, said both candidates will be trying to distinguish themselves among a crowded candidate field. They also want to come across as personable.
“Yes, going to a bookstore, hanging out at a tailgate would be exactly the kind of things you’d see to just kind of make sure that regular voters see these people doing daily things,” O’Gorman said.
He said both candidates will likely address – or at least be asked about – the current GOP hot topics of the upcoming Benghazi hearings and who might replace Rep. John Boehner as speaker of the House.
At this point, O’Gorman said, Carson is close to the top of polls, even leading one of them, while Bush continues to poll about in the middle of the pack.
Both events are free and open to the public, though people wishing to attend should plan for a crowd and arrive early.
Tickets for the Books-A-Million signing event are “not numbered, so Sunday it’s first-come, first-serve,” Sloan said.
“(Carson) will be here at 7. It’s a very quick tour, so he’s got other places to hit, so I don’t know how long he’ll be willing to stay before he has to get back on the road,” she said, “so there is no guarantee. But if you have a ticket and you have a place in line, he will give you an autographed book plate that you can put in your book.”