published Monday, August 6th, 2012

Tennessee GOP has eyes on November

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Republican leaders say they are confident the party quickly will put last week's divisive state GOP primaries behind it and get on to the main event this fall.

"We have the primaries behind us, and we're now looking forward to November," state Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said Sunday. He said a major focus is "building our majorities in the General Assembly" and added, "I believe we can do that."

Devaney said he sees the party's goal of winning two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate as "attainable."

State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester conceded Republicans have big advantages over beleaguered Democrats in money and territory. Republicans were in position for the first time since post-Civil War Reconstruction to draw legislative district lines to help their side and cut the ground from under Democrats.

Forrester said his party is in a "multiyear" rebuilding process.

At the same time, he said, Republicans are "clearly in disarray," with tea party-fueled challengers knocking off several House incumbents in last week's primaries.

Those losses included House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart, of Hendersonville, and House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, of Sevierville.

But, he said, Republicans' hard turn to the right is a turn-off to general election voters, and Democrats have any number of "great, young, energetic" candidates ready to mix it up.

Still, Forrester acknowledged Democrats' six-year "new path forward" plan to regain legislative majorities begins as a narrow trail in 2012. The party has "limited resources" to help candidates and must focus on where it can reasonably expect to make gains, he said.

In the next week to 10 days, Forrester said, party officials will begin assessing nominees' chances in open and challenged contests.

At this point, he said, no decisions have been made regarding contests in Hamilton County. That includes 10th District Senate nominee Andraé McGary, a Chattanooga city councilman, who will face the Republican nominee in November.

"Where Senate District 10 falls in that equation is clearly an unknown except we have an extremely young, energetic candidate in Andraé McGary, which makes us excited about that prospect," Forrester said.

In the Republican primary, Todd Gardenhire edged out Greg Vital by 40 votes, but Vital has yet to concede, and Gardenhire hasn't claimed victory.

Forrester said there's also no decision yet on what aid the party will provide to Democrats Sandy Smith, who is challenging Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, for the District 30 House seat; Larry Miller, going up against House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick in District 26; and Frank Eaton, who faces Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, in District 27.

Republicans say they consider all four seats safe.

Democrats currently have 34 seats in the 99-member House and 13 in the 33-member Senate. Forrester said Democrats really are starting from a position of 24 House seats and eight Senate seats based on redistricting and other factors.

Devaney said he is confident Republicans can increase their House and Senate majorities to 66 and 22 respectively. That would keep Republicans in control of both chambers should Democrats ever attempt to walk out, Devaney said.

The GOP chief said large numbers of GOP primary voters in some Democratic districts provide opportunities to take on House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, in West Tennessee.

And in the 16th Senate District, strong GOP primary votes provide a good basis for the Republican nominee, Janice Bowling, of Tullahoma, Devaney said. Democrat Jim Lewis, a former state senator from Kimball, won his party's nomination.

Forrester said Democrats have good opportunities in races for several open seats, and with two former Democratic House members hoping to knock off Republican incumbents in other parts of the state.

"With the open seat opportunities and what we call our take-away opportunities and the youth and vigor and energy with our candidates, we feel very confident that from that position of 24 and eight we will advance the ball down the field," Forrester said.

But he refused to "speculate on where the ball will be" after Nov. 6.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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