U.S. Rep. David Davis’ re-election campaign had been advised of two ways to overturn Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe’s 1st Congressional District GOP primary win, according to an internal campaign memo provided to the Times-News.
But the memo doesn’t say whether either of those methods looked like a sure-fire winner because both had to be considered by the Tennessee Republican Party (TRP) Primary Board.
The memo, which examines the “party raiding” conducted by Northeast Tennessee Democrats in aiding Roe’s narrow victory, was done for well-known GOP donor and Davis campaign supporter John Gregory by the Warrenton, Va.-based HoltzmanVogel law firm.
HoltzmanVogel said that if Davis had formally contested the primary with TRP’s primary board, its members either could have been asked to “throw out the illegal votes” and declare Davis the winner or order a new election.
The law firm pointed to “information provided by witnesses and anecdotal evidence” showing that many voters who never voted in the Republican primary chose a Republican ballot this time.
“Similarly, many voters who had a history of voting to choose the nominee of the Democrat primary chose a Republican ballot this time and many of these were in areas in which Dr. Roe saw heavy support,” the HoltzmanVogel memo said.
Davis said, for instance, there were 500 to 1,000 Democratic crossover voters in Carter County where he lost to Roe by nearly 1,100 votes.
Davis had similar defeats in Sullivan and Washington counties — the top two voting areas in the 1st Congressional District.
Out of more than 50,000 votes cast, he lost to Roe by less than one percent.
HoltzmanVogel said its research showed the right of political parties to determine their own nominees has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The ability of the Republican Party of Tennessee to preserve itself as a viable political entity depends entirely upon the ability of the party’s members to control its own nominating process,” the HoltzmanVogel memo said. “While some, including the Lieutenant Governor (Republican Ron Ramsey of Blountville), have asserted that Tennessee has an ‘open’ primary system, this is not the case, ... the fact that the state primary board of the Republican Party has exclusive jurisdiction over Republican primary election contests further demonstrates the fallacy of the argument that Tennessee holds open primaries.”
The law firm said that only “bona fide” party members could vote in that party’s primary.
However, the firm’s memo noted Tennessee applications for ballot do not contain “any affirmation” that the voter is a member of a political party, nor any affirmation of allegiance.
The ballot asks only for the voter’s name and address, and a check mark indicating whether they will vote in the Republican or Democratic primary.
Such a ballot, HoltzmanVogel asserted, “does not appear” to satisfy Tennessee’s primary voter eligibility law.
The memo also said Davis established a recount or contested election account separate from his re-election campaign account.
The separate account could have received up to $2,300 in individual contributions, and up to $5,000 from a multi-candidate political action committee, according to the memo.