“Come on in, the water’s fine.”
That’s what sources told Post Politics that Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, was saying about the rumors in the days prior to the announcement that Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, would drop her campaign for county mayor and instead run for re-election. The chatter that Beavers was considering such a move had been in the air since A.J. McCall got out of the race in December, but the talk reached a fever pitch the week of the press conference.
Once Beavers made clear her intentions, the focus returned to Lynn. Because, while it’s all fun and games to talk tough when rumors are just rumors, the reality of a primary battle was setting in, and difficult choices were to be made.
“I have been campaigning for nine months,” Lynn told reporters after Beavers’ announcement March 11. “[A] lot of supporters are calling me and urging me to stay in the race. … I am going to go out there this weekend and talk to the people.”
By taking the weekend, Lynn gave observers the impression that she might allow herself to be pushed aside. If Lynn was uncertain about staying the course, it wasn’t for very long. By the end of that week, Lynn had given an interview to The Lebanon Democrat confirming she was in. More importantly, she was telling the candidates running for her state House seat that they had nothing to fear from her.
“We got together for a short meeting at which she was very forthright with us and expressed her intention to stay in the Senate race,” said Adam Futrell, a candidate running for Lynn’s House seat. “I think the meeting was for the purpose of assuring myself and the other House candidates where we would stand in relation to her.”
Lynn’s decision is ballsy. She has a safe seat in the House. She’s chair of a good committee. It would be the easiest thing in the world to stand down and “wait her turn.” By refusing to wait, Lynn is taking a real risk: If she loses, her House seat is gone, just like her place in line behind Beavers. Effectively, her political career would end.
Beavers and Lynn have crossed streams since at least 2002. Trying to pin down exactly why is difficult. Some will point to 2004, when Beavers supported Lynn’s primary opponent after (she claims) Lynn showed an interest in her Senate seat during her bout with breast cancer. But the consensus seems to be that there is no reason for the feud. None that could truly explain the loathing that exists on both sides, anyway.
Ed Cromer of The Tennessee Journal, an astute political observer, wrote more than a week ago that a Beavers victory is not a foregone conclusion. But Lynn faces an uphill climb, and because there are so few demonstrable differences on policy, the race is likely to hit the gutter — quickly.
One problem for Lynn is that to beat a sitting senator, you have to convince voters to fire the incumbent. That’s a high bar. Lynn needs to make Beavers dropping out of the county mayor race look like the selfish act of an entitled career pol. On this score, Beavers has already provided ammunition, saying her decision to get back in was motivated in part by the chance to work with a Republican governor and legislature.
This will be a bad year for incumbents, and unfortunately for Beavers, she has all the negatives of incumbency without the benefits. Beavers is starting the race in a fundraising hole. She transferred most of her Senate campaign war chest to her campaign for Wilson County mayor. By law, that money can flow only one way — it can’t come back. Therefore Beavers, as the incumbent, starts this race $50,000 behind Lynn. As a committee chair, she will be able to make that money up fairly quickly, but not until the legislative session ends, which is just a few short months before the primary.
Beavers’ incumbency in the district hurts her in other ways, too. Yes, she has a lot of friends after representing the sprawling eight-county district since 2002. But she’s made a few enemies as well. As much as Beavers’ image is to some a folk hero, a gun-toting granny who stood up to Don Sundquist and took down Bob Rochelle, to others she is a somewhat eccentric, “difficult” woman with a tendency to make unreasonable demands and issue threats when things don't go her way.
The good news for Lynn is that her House district, which she’s represented since 2002, comprises nearly 50 percent of the Senate district’s primary electorate, and she has been running for the seat for nine months, expanding her base. The bad news is that she will have to run as an anti-establishment candidate against the most anti-establishment establishment candidate there is.
Visit Kleinheider at http://postpolitics.net