NASHVILLE - Embarrassed Tennessee Democratic Party leaders today disavowed their U.S. Senate nominee, Mark Clayton, charging he is "associated with a known hate group in Washington, D.C."
"The only time that Clayton has voted in a Democratic primary was when he was voting for himself," the party said in a statement. "Many Democrats in Tennessee knew nothing about any of the candidates in the race, so they voted for the person at the top of the ticket. Unfortunately, none of the other Democratic candidates were able to run the race needed to gain statewide visibility or support."
Democrats went on to charge "Mark Clayton is associated with a known hate group in Washington, D.C., and the Tennessee Democratic Party disavows his candidacy, will not do anything to promote or support him in any way, and urges Democrats to write-in a candidate of their choice in November."
The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated Public Advocate of the United States, a Falls Church, Va., organization as "an anti-gay hate group." Clayton is the group's vice president.
He is now Tennessee Democrats' nominee and will face U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in the fall. Clayton shot to the top of the seven-candidate Democratic field in Thursday's primary election. Democratic leaders had favored actress Park Overall, but most candidates spent virtually nothing.
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said Clayton's selection among little-known candidates shows "the overall field that the Democrats were touting was weak."
He said he didn't blame his counterpart, state Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester, for denouncing him.
But Devaney noted that the Republican Party several years ago acted in advance of a GOP congressional primary and kept a declared advocate of eugenics off the ballot.
"I think that showed that we vetted our candidates before the vetting process," Devaney said, adding he thinks it's a sign of overall weakness that Democrats evidently didn't.