The general election still determines the ultimate winner, but Tennessee GOP Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says political campaigns are getting to the point where primaries may be “the race.”
“Before I got to be in the (Republican) majority, I had to practically beg people to run, and now we have four-way primaries and six-way primaries. Things have really changed,” Ramsey said when asked to reflect on Thursday’s primary election results.
About a dozen incumbent state lawmakers lost in GOP and Democrat primaries on Thursday. Tea Party candidates ran against Republicans, while Democratic voters were encouraged to cast ballots in Republican primary races.
The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, put some GOP candidates in its crosshairs.
The NRA’s political influence got the most attention in a Middle Tennessee House GOP primary race featuring incumbent House GOP Caucus Chair Debra Maggart against NRA-backed Republican candidate Courtney Rogers.
The NRA had laid the blame for failure of its “Safe Commute” bill in the last legislative session on Maggart’s shoulders, and she lost.
“Debra hit the perfect storm,” Ramsey said. “She was running up against a good candidate. She was in this Nashville media market that just lives, breathes, eats and sleeps politics. It wasn’t just the NRA that brought her down. It was several other factors. I was a huge supporter. She was a great state representative. She took the brunt of other people’s frustration with politics in general. ... The NRA spent $75,000 to get a pro-Second Amendment legislator defeated.”
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris DeVaney, in a conference call with reporters, said GOP candidates won for different reasons.
“Courtney Rogers ran an aggressive, grass-roots campaign ... (but) certainly she was aided by an outside group or two,” said DeVaney. “But at the end of the day, voters have various reasons for voting one candidate over another. We have to commend Courtney for doing an outstanding job getting her vote out.”
In contrast, none of the nine Republican and Democratic members in the Tennessee congressional delegation lost a primary election. In two hotly contested GOP primaries, incumbent U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleishman of Chattanooga and Diane Black of Gallatin won handily.
In a meeting with Nashville reporters Friday, Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Lowe Finney predicted Democrats may surprise voters this fall.
In a prepared release, Finney said GOP Gov. Bill Haslam will have to decide next session whether to focus on kitchen table issues like college affordability and jobs or be weighed down by a Republican majority “drifting further” away from the mainstream.
“When you look at the number of incumbents unseated last night, it’s clear the legislature will be a very different place next year,” Finney said. “I’m confident the Democrats can be very influential in that environment.”
But DeVaney liked Republicans’ fund-raising advantage moving toward the November general election.
“Our donor base has the same goals we do. We’re going to continue to raise money, and the Democrats are going to be at a severe disadvantage,” DeVaney said.