Republicans in Rutherford County gathered Thursday night for their annual Reagan Day dinner.
Such events are primarily fundraisers for the party. But this year, they're also playing an important role in shaping the field to succeed Gov. Bill Haslam.
The speakers at the Stone River Country Club in Murfreesboro included the two confirmed candidates for the Republican nomination: Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd and Franklin businessman Bill Lee. And, two who are still making up their minds: Congressman Diane Black and Clarksville Senator Mark Green.
"Rutherford County is one of the hearts of conservatism in Tennessee," Green said. "It's one of the most conservative counties in the state."
One person who wasn't there was House Speaker Beth Harwell. She claimed a family emergency. Memphis Senator Mark Norris and Mt. Juliet's Mae Beavers also didn't attend, even though they too might run.
The crowded field means an intense competition for campaign dollars and votes. On the other hand, the winner could take the GOP nomination with a small percentage of the vote — perhaps as little as 20 or 30 percent — and have the inside track to becoming Tennessee's next governor.