Tennessee Democrats have named their enemy No. 1 for 2016: Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire.
At a fundraising event Thursday in Chattanooga, state Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini said gaining ground in the Legislature is the party's top priority, and District 10 is the first battleground.
The district includes the southern parts of Hamilton County, including Chattanooga and East Ridge, and a large swath of southern and eastern Bradley County.
Gardenhire has served since 2013, after now-Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, a Democrat, said in 2012 he wouldn't seek re-election. Berke had held the seat since 2008.
Gardenhire was the first Republican to hold the seat in four decades.
It's no surprise Democrats are going after Gardenhire. The Chattanooga senator became the focal point of ire after he and six other Republican senators voted against Gov. Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee Medicaid expansion program.
Gardenhire also used a vulgarism to a health care protester who asked him if he would give up his own state health insurance.
On Thursday, Mancini said Gardenhire's fiery remarks only will help energize Democrats.
"If he called one voter an [expletive] for holding him accountable, what's he going to call 40,000 of us who go to the ballot box? What's he going to call all of us?" she said to local Democrats.
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lee said he knows of at least two candidates who are seeking the Democratic nod.
"No one has officially announced yet, but we have two people who are considering it," Lee said. "But I think there will be four by the time elections come."
Gardenhire said Friday he was not surprised at all. He said the Democratic party started its campaign against him months ago.
"I've been saying all along that the state Democratic chair and the local Democratic chairman has been the impetus behind all the harassment and the protests, even though they deny it," Gardenhire said. "But that's OK. This is America. It's their job to field candidates, and it's our job to protect our seats."
Mancini said Friday in a phone interview that Gardenhire brought protestors and criticism upon himself.
"I think Senator Gardenhire has to take responsibility for that. He's the one who voted against Insure Tennessee. He's the one who voted not to give 300,000 Tennesseans the same access to health care that he has," Mancini said.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at firstname.lastname@example.org, @glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.