Phil Roe speaks to supporters at a Sullivan County GOP headquarters opening in Kingsport Friday. David Grace photo.
Incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. David Davis said Friday he probably should have conceded his razor-thin Republican primary loss to Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe on primary night.
“He received the votes,” Davis, who on Friday shut down an effort to contest the 1st Congressional District GOP primary, said of Roe.
Davis said the reason he didn’t concede earlier was to point out that Roe won with “illegal votes” based on his campaign’s interpretation of Tennessee state law.
“Really the reason I stayed in for a week is really to point out to Tennessee voters is that the primary system is there for a reason — for the parties to choose their candidate and then the general election is open to anybody to vote,” Davis said. “Hopefully I’ve educated the voters about Tennessee law.”
Roe, who attended a Sullivan County GOP headquarters opening in Kingsport on Friday, was glad the bitter contest was over.
“It was a hard-fought election for both candidates,” said Roe, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist who placed fourth in the 2006 GOP primary. “I remember two years ago when I called David and conceded around four in the morning. That was a difficult phone call to make. ... David said he would be supportive of us and was ready to put the party back together. It (Davis’ concession phone call) was a good call.”
Out of more than 50,000 votes cast, Roe defeated Davis by 486 votes, according to yet-to-be certified results from the Tennessee Division of Elections.
But Davis had alleged that Democrats went to the polls in large numbers and unfairly stole the election from him by siding with Roe.
The law firm employed by Davis’ campaign to investigate the primary found robocalls “conducted in violation of both federal and state law” were sent to Democrats’ homes the night before the primary.
Those robocalls, the firm said, encouraged Democrats to vote in the GOP primary and “to vote for anyone but Congressman Davis.”
Roe said his campaign made robocalls, about $3,000 worth near the end of the campaign, but he insisted those calls were made to people identified as his supporters.
The Tennessee Republican Party (TRP) and local Republicans sounded relieved that Davis had conceded to Roe and did not opt to go forward with a formal contest of the primary with TRP’s primary board.
“Congressman Davis’ decision to let the voters of the 1st District, rather than a parade of lawyers, courts and committees, have the final say on who they wish to represent them in Congress represents the best traditions of American democracy,” TRP Chair Robin Smith said in a prepared release. “State law permits voters to declare at the polling place which party’s primary they wish to participate in, a system that allows Tennesseans to vote for the man or woman they believe is best for the job and, unless an election result has been compromised by actual voter fraud such as false identity or votes cast by the dead, we believe the will of the voters as expressed at the ballot box on election day should be respected. David Davis has served his community honorably and with distinction first as a state legislator, then as a member of Congress, and now by his decision to let the people’s vote stand without challenge.”
Sullivan County GOP Chairman Jason Booher, who with other prominent Republicans had called for Davis to concede the primary, said there’s a time for campaigns to end.
“It’s time for the Republican Party to come together and heal and unite behind Dr. Roe as our candidate,” Booher said. “In talking with a variety of our elected officials in Sullivan County, I firmly believe we have an open primary, ... we welcome all voters to vote in our primary and become aligned with the Republican Party.”
Roe will face Kingsport Democrat Rob Russell in the district’s fall general election.
A Democrat hasn’t been elected to fill the district’s seat since the 19th century.