NASHVILLE — More than two dozen incumbent Republican and Democratic state lawmakers face challengers in Thursday's primary elections, and several could swing on narrow margins.
Of the 25 incumbents, probably the most contentious races involve Republicans, who control the Tennessee General Assembly.
While the GOP has used its strong numbers to push through legislation at will, the Republican Caucus has sometimes tried to distance itself from lightning-rod figures like Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville, who has two opponents in the District 7 primary.
With 3 percent of precincts reporting Thursday night, cardiac surgeon Richard Briggs had 9,220 votes, or 68 percent, compared with Campfield's 3,490 votes, or 26 percent.
Campfield, who has a long history of controversial statements and legislative initiatives, made national news a few months ago when he compared the federal health care law to the forced transportation of Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust in a blog post.
"Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign-ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory sign-ups for 'train rides' for Jews in the 40s," he wrote. The misspelling of "mandatory" appeared in the original text.
Campfield's remark drew swift condemnation and demands for apology from both Democratic and Republican leaders in the state — including the governor.
"Words matter, and to make the comparison to the Holocaust is wrong, inappropriate and insensitive," said Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor.
However, University of Tennessee, Knoxville political analyst Anthony Nownes said Campfield is simply representing the views of his constituents.
"One of the things that has always surprised me is that people act like Stacey Campfield is the only person who believes these things," Nownes said.
Another Republican lawmaker who has been scrutinized by some members of his own party is Sen. Jim Summerville, who faces two serious challengers for his District 25 seat.
With a few precincts reporting, former state Rep. Joshua Evans of Greenbrier had 1,807 votes, or 44 percent, compared with Summerville's 683 votes, or 16 percent.
Last year, the Dickson Republican proposed a measure to eliminate affirmative action initiatives from higher education institutions in Tennessee. After the legislation failed in the Senate Education Committee, Summerville threatened Republican lawmakers who voted against it, saying they would face repercussions in this year's election.
"Every Republican with a primary opponent will have to answer for the vote on this bill, and why they believe some Americans aren't ready for equal treatment," he said.
Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said Republicans — as well as business leaders — believe such legislation and polarizing comments like the one concerning the Holocaust actually hurt the state.
"There are business interests and sort of economic conservatives who are saying, these are not the people we need," Oppenheimer said. "It's problematic."
Other Republican incumbents that could see tough races include:
• Rep. Tony Shipley in District 2; challenged by retired policeman Bud Hulsey.
• Rep. Micah Van Huss in District 6; challenged by Johnson City Vice Mayor Clayton Stout.
• Rep. Courtney Rogers in District 45; challenged by businessman Len Silverman.
• Rep. Vance Dennis in District 71; challenged by principal/coach David Byrd.
On the Democratic side:
• Rep. Gary Odom in District 55; challenged by attorney John Clemmons.
• Sen. Ophelia Ford in District 29; challenged by Memphis City Councilman Lee Harris.