Dean wins Democrats' nomination for governor

Karl Dean speaks at the Spring into Action Rally at Grundy County High School Saturday, April 7, 2018 in Grundy County, Tenn. Dean, who is the former mayor of Nashville, is a democratic candidate running for the Tennessee governor seat.

NASHVILLE - Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean won Democrats' nomination for Tennessee governor on Thursday, besting state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

Dean's victory sets the stage for a November battle with businessman Bill Lee, who won the Republican nomination in a hard-fought four-person race. Lee beat Randy Boyd, a Knoxville businessman; U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin; and state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville.

Dean is hoping to crack Republicans' grip on power in a state where it's been a dozen years since a Democrat last won a statewide election.

"We are going forward and we're going forward on this together," Dean told cheering supporters, adding that he ran a positive race with Fitzhugh "and we're going to keep it positive, that is what I want to do" in the Nov. 6 general election race.

The 62-year-old, two-term mayor and public defender said, "I am running on the sense that I don't think people want hyper-partisanship. I have been to 95 counties and I have heard consistently that people want their elected officials to work together to move their state forward."

Fitzhugh, 68, congratulated Dean, pledging in a concession speech that he plans to work to get him elected.

But Dean immediately came under attack from Republican Governors Association spokesman Jon Thompson, who charged he is "just another left-wing, big-government politician who will break his promises, dodge accountability and raise taxes."

The governors association chairman this election cycle is Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who leaves the governor's mansion in January after completing his second four-year term.

Dean and Fitzhugh's primary was a fairly mild-mannered affair compared to the Republican fight among Black, Boyd, Harwell and Lee.

Eyeing the general election in a state won in 2016 by President Donald Trump, Dean ran his primary effort with a focus on reaching out not only to Democrats but moderate Republicans, stressing the importance of issues such as improving public education, health and economic development.

He sought to present a business-friendly image based on his Nashville record and also said he wanted "to focus on issues that are important to Tennesseans and how we can come together to get things done.

"As governor, I will be committed to the people, not the party," said Dean, whose prior post as mayor was elected on a nonpartisan basis.

He also sought to reach out to rural voters in one ad showing him walking in a largely deserted small town, noting that he had grown up in a similar small factory town in Massachusetts faced with job losses and was sympathetic to what he called "a forgotten Tennessee."

While Fitzhugh, an attorney and president of a locally owned bank, struck similar themes, the longtime lawmaker and former state House Finance Committee chairman from rural Ripley in West Tennessee couldn't compete with Dean's Nashville fundraising base.

Through July 23, Dean raised an estimated $4.37 million over the course of the campaign, while Fitzhugh took in $984,796. Dean's total included $1.4 million contributed by the candidate and his wife, Anne Davis, one of the heirs to a family coal mining fortune. Fitzhugh, meanwhile, loaned his campaign $766,000.

Unable to advertise on television in a big way as Dean could, Fitzhugh relied on social media, satellite media and other means of getting his message out.

During one gubernatorial forum, Fitzhugh struck hard at Dean, questioning the mayor's use of $7.4 million in federal flood relief funding on a downtown amphitheater.

Dean defended the spending as appropriate, noting it was approved at multiple levels, widely publicized and that no one had sought the money, which would have been lost if not used.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.