The keyword in most every election cycle is “change.” Incumbents say it isn’t needed, their challengers say it most definitely is, and voters usually end up somewhere in the middle.
No matter what happens this year, Tennessee’s congressional delegation will change considerably. Three of the nine members representing the state in Congress are leaving, two by retirement and a third seeking another office.
Here is a look at the most talked about battles for office.
3rd Congressional District
Open seat vacated by Rep. Zach Wamp, R, candidate for governor
Of all the congressional races in Tennessee, the Republican primary in this district is the most wide-open. Victory in August here is tantamount to election in November.
The race has become a three-way contest between former Tennessee GOP chair Robin Smith, ex-radio host/attorney Chuck Fleischmann, and — to a lesser extent — Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble.
Smith has relied heavily on an endorsement from the conservative PAC “Club for Growth,” which has turned out to be the biggest financial boon for her election. Boasting the largest campaign staff, Smith will rely on their grassroots work to get her across the finish line on Aug. 5.
Fleischmann’s biggest moment in this primary season came when he nabbed the endorsement of former GOP presidential candidate and governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee. Of course that endorsement was no real surprise, since Huckabee’s former campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, runs Fleischmann’s campaign.
Gobble, the sheriff of Bradley County, seems to be doing better than most expected given that he is short on cash and isn’t in the same league as his two main rivals when it comes to putting together a district-wide campaign organization. One major factor keeping him from breaking out of Bradley County is Art Rhodes, president and chief executive officer of the Church of God Benefits Board, who is also running for the vacant seat.
Of note but not expected to be a factor in the race is Knoxville attorney Van Irion, who was endorsed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Democrats: Alicia Mitchell, Brent Davis Staton, Brenda Freeman Short, John Wolfe Jr.
Republicans: Tommy Crangle, Harvey Howard, Jean “Lady J.” Howard-Hill, Richard “Rick” Kernea II, Basil J. Marceaux Sr., Grover Travillian.
Independents: Don Barkman, Mark DeVol, Gregory “Greg” C. Goodwin, Robert Humphries, Morris “Mo” Kiah, Savas T. Kyriakidis.
5th Congressional District
Incumbent Rep. Jim Cooper, D, is seeking re-election
The 5th Congressional District, which represents the majority of Davidson County, had rivaled the 9th Congressional District as the most reliable Democratic seat in the state. But there are plenty of people who want to take that designation away.
Currently represented by Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, the seat has a long tradition of holding onto incumbents, but that isn’t guaranteed down the road. With congressional redistricting on the horizon and Republicans likely to control the pen, Cooper could be in his last “safe” race for a while. He has been largely silent and has not mobilized his supporters. Might be a good time to start running some ads if he wants to shore up his base.
Among the Republicans, the biggest splash of the season has come from CeCe Heil, who garnered the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. While that endorsement would likely hurt her in a general election for the left-leaning district, it will be interesting to see how it translates in the GOP primary. Heil’s husband is in the Christian music band Sonicflood, with whom she works on legal and corporate matters.
At the beginning of the GOP primary race, the front-runner was businessman Jeff Hartline, and he is still favored. But victory is not as certain as it once was.
Hartline has been endorsed by Huckabee as well, but more importantly is backed by health care venture capitalist Andy Miller. He has been hit lately for paying himself a salary from his own campaign. His most vocal advocate and also consulting on his campaign is former TNGOP spokesman Bill Hobbs, which is a double-edged sword: While many grassroots people love the guy, there are just as many whom he has rubbed the wrong way.
Probably one of the most effective public speakers in the GOP primary is health care executive Bob Schwartz, but he is lacking the resources to enter the fray as a top contender.
Democrats: Eric Pearson, Eric Schechter
Republicans: David Hall, Vijay Kumar, Patrick Miranda, Bob Ries, Jarod D. Scott, Alvin M. Strauss, Lonnie Spivak, Tracy C. Tarum
Libertarian: Stephen W. Collings
Green: John P. Miglietta
Independent: William “Bill” Crook, Joe D. Moore Jr., Jacqueline “Jackie” Miller, John “Big John” Smith, Thomas “Clark” Taylor, and businessman James G. Whitfield II.
6th Congressional District
Open seat due to retirement of Rep. Bart Gordon, D
When incumbent Rep. Bart Gordon announced he would not be seeking re-election to the office he has held since 1985, Republicans from Bedford County to the Beltway rejoiced, because the seat is one they are likely to pick up in November. Unlike some of the other races profiled here, though, there is a Democratic primary worth watching.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, the race is between recently retired U.S. Marine Capt. Ben Leming and attorney/National Guardsman Brett Carter.
The advantage right now is with Carter, who has approximately $103,000 on hand that must be spent in the primary, compared with the $36,000 that Leming has in the bank. Throw that into some late television and direct-mail purchases, and being first on the ballot alphabetically in a race largely ignored will be a major advantage.
The battle that most are watching is in the Republican primary, where state Sens. Diane Black and Jim Tracy are joined by former Rutherford County GOP chair Lou Ann Zelenik as the ones to watch.
Black has the most money and, due to rock-solid support in Sumner and Robertson counties, has become the primary favorite. She is helped by the fact that Zelenik and Tracy come from the southern end of the district and are cutting into each other’s votes.
Tracy has tried to separate himself from the field by not so subtly pointing out that he is the one man in a race against two women. The commercial he ran pushing this point came off clumsily and may have actually cost him support.
Zelenik is running as the “only person not to hold elected office before,” and reminding voters she isn’t a “career politician.” Her biggest splash so far has come from trying to tap into primal fears in her vocal opposition to an Islamic mosque in Murfreesboro. While the tactic is unlikely to get her a win in August, she looks to have outpaced Tracy.
Black will, most likely, continue to milk her lead and run out the clock.
Democrats: Henry Clay Barry, Devora E. Butler, George T. Erdel
Republicans: David “Dave” Evans, Gary Dewitt Mann, Bruce McLellan, Kerry E. Roberts
Independents: Jim Boyd, Brandon E. Gore, Tommy N. Hay, David Purcell, Stephen R. Sprague
8th Congressional District
Open seat due to retirement of Rep. John Tanner, D
The biggest surprise of this election season was undoubtedly the retirement of Democratic Rep. John Tanner.
Republicans have been salivating since Tanner announced he was stepping down. They believe this seat, like the 6th Congressional District, will be a pickup. It won’t be as easy as they think.
While the demographics of the 6th have shifted considerably over the last decade, the 8th has remained largely the same. It has always had a conservative Democratic bent and still does. While those unfamiliar with the district will lump Tanner in with the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, voters in the 8th have never bitten on the attack line of their congressman being “like those liberals in Washington.”
Granted, this time it won’t be Tanner carrying the Democratic flag. It will be state Sen. Roy Herron of Dresden. Insofar as a district so sprawling as the 8th can be considered a “retail race,” meaning face-to-face as opposed to television ads, this is one of those races. Herron does well in that environment and will connect. He will bring the fight to whomever the GOP puts up.
On the GOP side, the race appears to have come down to farmer Stephen Fincher, Dr. Ron Kirkland, and Shelby County Commissioner Dr. George Flinn.
Fincher was the first into the race and was planning a run against Tanner. He seems to enjoy the support of the GOP establishment in Washington, D.C. When Tanner opted out, though, Fincher saw his primary field a bit more crowded. Kirkland has been making a strong run of late and appeared to be gaining on Fincher, but it might be too little, too late.
Democrat: Kimberlee E. Smith
Republicans: Randy Smith, Bennie “Ben” Watts
Independent: Donn Janes, Mark J. Rawles