Friday, April 2, 2010

Political discord inspires hundreds to enter TN races

Candidates flock to federal and state races in Middle TN By Michael Cass and Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • April 2, 2010 Hoping to take advantage of a tumultuous political atmosphere, hundreds of candidates took steps Thursday to qualify as candidates for state and federal elections. Races across Middle Tennessee will be more competitive than at any time in recent memory, with some incumbents planning to retire or facing tough primary challenges. In Nashville, long-time incumbent Democrats Sen. Douglas Henry and Rep. Mary Pruitt will have to fight for their party's nomination. Meanwhile, the retirements of entrenched lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon and state Rep. Ben West have created openings for the first time in a quarter-century. "It's a rare opportunity for a normal person like me to get to run for a seat like this," said Brett Carter, a 38-year-old tax attorney and Iraq war veteran who will run as a Democrat for Gordon's Sixth Congressional District seat. Thursday was the deadline to qualify for state House, Senate and gubernatorial races as well as Congressional elections. Blake Fontenay, a spokesman for the Tennessee secretary of state's office, which includes the Division of Elections, cautioned that election officials still need to verify candidates' qualifying petitions. Also, the political parties have to sign off on candidates' standing as Democrats or Republicans. Candidates have until April 8 at noon to withdraw their names from the ballot. Here are some of Middle Tennessee's races to watch between now and the Aug. 5 primaries: • A hard-fought battle is expected in the state Senate's sprawling District 17, covering Wilson and six surrounding counties, as Mae Beavers, the incumbent, and Rep. Susan Lynn pursue the Republican nomination. Beavers decided to try to retain her seat after initially launching a campaign to become Wilson County mayor. The two women, who are political rivals, have drawn attention for their conservative stances on issues ranging from health-care reform to Second Amendment rights. 6th race appears intense The race to succeed Gordon, who is retiring at the end of this year after 26 years in Congress, is drawing intense interest. Gordon's 6th Congressional District covers parts of Rutherford, Sumner, Wilson and 12 other Middle Tennessee counties. Political analysts have said the district will tilt strongly toward Republicans with Gordon leaving the stage. Republicans who plan to run for the seat include two state senators, Diane Black of Gallatin and Jim Tracy of Shelbyville; retired Wartrace military officer and government employee Dave Evans; Franklin motorcycle shop owner Gary Mann; Bruce McLellan of Overton County; Springfield bicycle shop owner Kerry Roberts; and Rutherford County political activist Lou Ann Zelenik. Seven Democrats also are running, including Carter and Ben Leming, a Marine captain from Murfreesboro. Carter said he lives in Davidson County now but plans to move to Rutherford or Sumner soon. • U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville will face two unknown Democratic primary challengers, Eric Pearson and Eric Schechter, while as many as 14 Republicans will battle for the chance to try to unseat Cooper in November. • Henry, a state senator for nearly 40 years, will have to out-hustle Jeff Yarbro, an attorney who has not yet reached the age of 40, to win the Democratic nomination. Pruitt, a state House member for more than 20 years, will battle another young upstart, Steven Turner. Last year, Turner was voted the Davidson County Young Democrats' rising star. • Two Metro councilmen, a former council member and three other candidates are pursuing West's House District 60 seat. Councilman Sam Coleman of Antioch and former Councilman Tommy Bradley, now the chief administrative officer of the Davidson County Criminal Court clerk's office, are running as Democrats. Councilman Jim Gotto of Hermitage is the lone Republican running for the seat. • The governor's race is down to just one Democrat, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, son of former Gov. Ned Ray McWherter. The three main Republicans are Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga. In all, 19 candidates have filed to run for governor.

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