Politics

Tennessee Republican candidate for Congress carries pitchfork with him on campaign trail

Alex Pappas Political Reporter

Where Van Irion goes, so does his pitchfork.

The Republican congressional candidate — and avid Tea Party supporter — running for east Tennessee’s 3rd District seat keeps the farm tool at his side, whether he’s giving speeches or glad handling constituents, as a reminder of what his candidacy is about. Irion, 42, practices civil law in Knoxville and is hardly a Tennessee farmer, but he said his campaign prop “represents the angry mob.”

“In these parts farmers use pitchforks to clean their manure out of their stalls,” he explained during an interview with The Daily Caller. “And I tell people everywhere I go that I’m gonna take the pitchfork to the House floor and clean the manure out of the Capitol.”

The pitchfork itself is popular among the voters in Tennessee, he said, and many get “a good a chuckle out of that. Most of them say, ‘Well you’re gonna need a lot more pitchforks and a lot more people.”

“It usually gets a standing ovation. So that gives you an idea of just how mad people are. And there’s a lot of mad people in this country.”

Irion, who with this race is making his first foray into politics, says “ever since high school I’ve been frustrated that the government doesn’t follow the constitution.”

The self-described constitutionalist is running for the seat that’s being vacated by Rep. Zach Wamp, a Republican who is taking a stab at the governor’s race.

For the Republican nomination he’s running against Robin Smith, a more establishment Republican who he called a “former party boss.” Irion, whose campaign manager is a Tennessee Tea Party leader, claims to “ have the support of virtually every Tea Party group in the district.” Both Smith and the other candidates in the primary have far out-raised him, he said, and since he can’t compete with them financially yet, he decided on the pitchfork to “help me stand out in the crowd.”

“I’m trying to set myself apart in any way I can, so I was thinking about symbols with which to do that,” he said. “And of course I’m a Glenn Beck fan, and I remember him talking about pitchforks and torches and storming Washington, so I decided that was probably a pretty good symbol. People identify with it right away.”

His connection with Beck, the Fox News commentator beloved by conservatives, doesn’t stop with the pitchfork, he said. “Lots and lots of people tell me I look like Glenn Beck. And I think the connection with the pitchfork kind of encourages that relation,” he said. “I think like him and I talk like him too. My kids joke that he’s my doppelganger.”

Irion argues he can win if he can get Tea Party activists to the polls. He cited a recent poll that says almost 10 percent of Tennesseans consider themselves to be active in Tea Parties and 29 percent say they are in favor of the movement. “So if I can capture, you know, any significant faction of active Tea Party members in the district I win,” he said. “The only question for my campaign is can we raise enough money just to get the word out that I’m the guy who represents Tea Party values and if we can do that I win.”

If he’s victorious, however, he said he knows he won’t be able to take his campaign prop everywhere: “I don’t think I’ll be flying the pitchfork — I think I’ll be leaving the pitchfork in my office when I go back and forth,” he said of a congressman’s travel between his district and Washington.

But he said the immunity members of Congress are given from being stopped by law enforcement on the way to a vote will allow him to bring his pitchfork with him to the floor, if he’s elected.

“I’m taking the pitchfork to the House floor,” he said. “I’m gonna tell the congressman why its here. In fact I might make a habit of it. I might do it the whole time I’m there.”