Tennessee Democratic Party (TDP) Chairman Gray Sasser thinks he may have a Democratic challenger for Northeast Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District seat in 2008.
The challenger could be Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball, who grew up in Newport.
“I’m interested in taking a look at it. ... I would move my residence to Newport if I did that,” Ball said of possibly running for the 1st Congressional District seat now held by freshman Republican David Davis.
Unseating Davis is one of many challenges faced by Sasser in GOP-dominated Northeast Tennessee.
Sasser, the son of former three-term U.S. Sen. Jim Sasser, tried to encourage the party faithful with speaking engagements at a Sullivan County Democratic Women’s picnic in Bluff City and a Hawkins County picnic in Church Hill over the weekend.
“I think traditionally we’ve had a small choir in East Tennessee, but we’re making sure our congregation is growing every day up there,” Sasser said. “And that’s one of the reasons I’ve been spending so much time in East Tennessee. We recognize that East Tennessee has never been a stronghold for the Tennessee Democratic Party going back to the days of (former President) Andrew Johnson. But we think we can make inroads up there, and we’re making a commitment behind it. ... I think our county parties are growing. We’re seeing a new level of activism.”
Sasser thinks Davis might be vulnerable even though Democrats haven’t held the 1st Congressional District seat in more than 100 years.
“It’s really the vulnerability of the Republican Party throughout the state and country,” Sasser explained. “The American people are dissatisfied with the way (President) George Bush has governed Washington. David Davis, (U.S. Sen.) Lamar Alexander and the other Republicans in Congress have stood hand in hand with George Bush and (Bush political adviser) Karl Rove every time they ask for their vote. That is going to be their real vulnerability. We’re going to continue to highlight in the coming weeks and months that Democrats offer real change for America.”
Sasser was also asked whether the TDP would have a candidate to challenge Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Blountville Republican state senator who soundly defeated Democratic challenger John McKamey in 2004.
“We are actively recruiting candidates all across the state, for both the state House and state Senate,” Sasser responded. “We don’t intend to give anyone a pass at anything. Do we have an announced candidate to oppose Ron Ramsey now? Frankly, no. We don’t have very many announced candidates at all for the state Senate because we’re still too far away from that. ... (But) I’m convinced we will have candidates in just about every single district.”
TDP’s immediate challenge, Sasser said, is to keep a state Senate seat in the Chattanooga area in Democratic hands. A special election is being held this fall to replace state Sen. Ward Crutchfield, a Democrat who resigned his seat after issuing a guilty plea in July to taking a bribe in the FBI’s “Operation Tennessee Waltz” sting. Crutchfield held the seat for more than 20 years.
“We know the Republicans will be contesting it heavily,” Sasser said of the special election. “It will be the first big test for both parties to see what direction the state will be moving in going into 2008.”
Sasser promised the field of Democratic presidential contenders won’t write Tennessee off despite attention being focused on the early New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses.
“I would disagree with any candidate who says Tennessee is not in play come November 2008,” Sasser said. “I think both Republican and Democratic candidates will be paying a lot of attention to Tennessee going into the February 5th primary. ... If you want a Democrat to win in the state of Tennessee, you have to garner votes in East Tennessee.”
For more about the TDP go to www.tndp.org.