Party heads hope for big turnout in Hamilton County election

Party heads hope for big turnout in Hamilton County election

August 7th, 2014 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

Jack McGill, officer of elections for the Northwoods precincts, sets up for Thursday's elections in the Impact Youth Center at Calvary Baptist Church in Red Bank.

Jack McGill, officer of elections for the Northwoods...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.


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• Check out the Times Free Press voter guide for complete information on county races.

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Area Republicans today will choose whether to back new blood in Congress or to give the incumbent another chance in November.

The Hamilton County Commission primary upset that rocked District 1 could be derailed by an impromptu write-in campaign.

And the same-sex domestic partnership debate will be settled -- at least for Chattanooga, at least for now.

Election day today features a big ballot and much at stake.

Regionally, voters will decide to keep, ditch or pick party candidates for governor, U.S. senator and two congressmen. Candidates in Southeast Tennessee will jockey for a handful of state Legislature posts in party primaries.

Politicians made final rounds Wednesday in Hamilton County -- and all over the state -- in anticipation of today's election. Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann filed into a downtown Chattanooga diner Wednesday morning to gain last-minute support from voters over breakfast.

Alexander has been hard-pressed by tea party-backed state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, but five lesser-known Republicans are also in the race. Haslam also has a handful of GOP challengers but is widely expected to win easily. Democrats will choose their champions to face the Republican nominees in November.

It's also the final bell for county general elections, including court clerks, judges and a host of other local jobs.

All nine Hamilton County Commission seats are up, though only five are contested. Five school board seats are on the ballot, along with the county mayor's post, a slew of county seats and all the judicial and court posts.

The big local ballot brought the largest early voting turnout the county has seen in at least 12 years. More than 21,000 residents cast ballots ahead of the election -- that's 3,000 more early votes than in the 2012 presidential election. And party heads say they both hope to capitalize on the bump in participation.

"We have 31 races, you have nine [partisan races] that are contested in some form or the other. And you have a pretty contested congressional race that's going to bring people out," Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Tony Sanders said.

The fiercest contest regionally has been in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District.

Second-term incumbent Fleischmann is being challenged in the GOP primary by second-time challenger Weston Wamp. The winner will face Democratic candidate Mary Headrick in November.

Wamp, the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, has run on a message of bipartisan cooperation and breaking logjams in Congress. Fleischmann's camp has used a barrage of negative campaign ads, many of which have included partial, misleading quotes from Wamp, to characterize the challenger as a Democrat in disguise.

Terry Lee, who leads the county's Democratic Party, said the battle -- even though it's a GOP contest -- has driven some of his voters to the polls.

"I think the Wamp/Fleischmann race has got a lot of people who have never picked up a Republican ballot to have decided they want a voice in that election," Lee said. "People have become infuriated by some of the wild claims and the out-and-out lies that have been put on the television. I think people just get emotionally involved in that."

Lee says he's still confident the Democrats can pick up commission seats and keep their handful of incumbents safe. He expects some Democrats will cross over in the District 1, where Republican nominee Randy Fairbanks faces a write-in challenge from school board member Rhonda Thurman, also a Republican.

Fairbanks upset longtime Commissioner Fred Skillern in May. Thurman is an ally of Skillern's and has said she wanted his seat when he was finished.

In Chattanooga, the question is whether the city can offer benefits to its employees' domestic partners.

The City Council approved the benefits in November but opponents mounted a successful petition drive to put the question on the ballot.

Staff writer Joy Lukachick contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at or at 423-757-6481.