By Michael Davis Staff Writer
Rep. Dewayne Bunch, RCleveland, announced Tuesday he will seek the Senate District 9 seat to be vacated by Sen. Jeff Miller, R-Cleveland.
Rep. Bunch made the announcement by a state legislative e-mail, which included praise from House Minority Leader Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville; Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville; and Rep. Tre Hargett, R-Bartlett.
In an interview, Rep. Bunch said he made the decision after the special session on ethics ended and after consulting with family and friends.
"I think the things that we have fought for and stood for in the last 7 1/2 years are consistent with the 9 th Senate district," he said. Cleveland chiropractor and former Bradley County Commissioner Dr. Lindsay Hathcock Jr. and Cleveland/Bradley County Veterans Affairs director Gary Benefield already have qualified for the District 9 Senate GOP primary, according to the Bradley County Election Commission.
Alma Dotson has picked up papers to run in the Democratic primary for the Senate seat, while Ed Choate has picked up papers to run as an independent.
Officials with the election commission offices in the Senate district’s other counties —; McMinn, Meigs and Polk counties —; could not be reached late Tuesday afternoon.
Candidates have until April 6 to qualify for state primaries.
Mr. Benefield said he was not surprised by Rep. Bunch’s decision to seek the Senate seat, but he said he remains confident of his own chances in the Aug. 3 Republican primary.
"I would not run if I did think I could win," he said.
Dr. Hathcock said he announced his candidacy last August, before Sen. Miller announced he would not seek another term. He said he, too, plans to stay in the race.
"In my opinion, it is a free country," he said. "(Rep. Bunch) can choose to run if he wishes."
Mark Brown, spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party, said Rep. Bunch’s e-mail, with multiple endorsements from other GOP House members, suggested that the Cleveland lawmaker was the "ordained candidate" for Republicans.
"They were clearly trying to tell any other Republican to stay out," he said.
But Rep. Bunch said statements from Rep. Harwell, Rep. Dunn and others were simply endorsements by the "people who know me best and know me well."
Rep. Bunch’s announcement means there will be an open race for House District 24.
Michael Willis and Greg Cain have picked up papers to run in the GOP primary for the seat, according to the Bradley County Election Commission.
Mr. Brown said both Senate District 9 and House District 24 will be tough seats for Democrats to pick up in the fall, but "when it comes to any of these races, an open seat is always an opportunity."
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