Tea Party Group Angered After Gun Store Owner Calls Off Senate Debate

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An event featuring candidates for U.S. Senate took a bizarre turn Thursday evening. The Rainy Day Patriots had organized a debate for all five republican candidates at Hoover Tactical Firearms. But when Senator Richard Shelby didn’t attend, things quickly began to unravel.

At first, people thought things were just a little behind schedule. Then several minutes after the debate was supposed to have started, people buzzed about what could be the holdup. Finally, Hoover Tactical owner Gene Smith asked everyone to put all cameras away. Then, he said, this was the deal:

“Is that because he’s not here to defend himself, no negative statements will be made about Senator Shelby,” Smith said. Smith told the crowd he was a strong supporter of Shelby, who had another commitment booked months ago. His four challengers were there. One of them was former Marine Captain Jonathan McConnell, who asked Smith this:

“Does that apply to his commercials about me sir?” Smith said the event was over.  “Y’all can go on home,” he said.

And then, chaos.

Ann Eubank,  an official with the Rainy Day Patriots, the tea party group that organized the event, asked people to vacate the premises.

“I don’t know what to say. Yes it is an absolute surprise,” she said. “We’ve held them before,” referring to the Rainy Day Patriots monthly meetings and candidate forums over the years. All at this very gun superstore. Owner Gene Smith, she said, considered this outside the scope of the group’s regular gatherings, and called it off.

“It’s sort of a fiasco,” Hoover resident Ben Marcus said. “I’m very disappointed. I didn’t get to hear any exchange of information and ideas between the candidates. And that’s what I came here for.”

Marcus left feeling frustrated with the political process. Meanwhile, among the candidates, accusations were flying. McConnell blamed Shelby.

“The fact that Richard Shelby’s able to intimidate his way and get his way, no surprise at all,” McConnell said.

Shelby’s campaign spokeswoman said the senator had nothing to do with what happened. Former Alabama State Senator Shadrack McGill, also running for the US Senate seat, blamed McConnell. McGill said in a closed door meeting before the debate, all four candidates had agreed to the ground rules: no bashing Shelby.

“And then we come out here and it seems his campaign manager is intentionally railroaded the event, I believe for publicity purposes,” McGill said.

McConnell called that ridiculous. At some point, someone at Hoover Tactical had called the police. An employee ushered the crowd out to the parking lot, where three police SUV’s awaited. And in the distance, a giant billboard for Richard Shelby.


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