Lundberg doesn't have political headwinds, but Shipley does

Hank Hayes • Jun 20, 2016 at 2:41 PM

At first glance, the race for outgoing Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s Tennessee state Senate seat would appear to be state Rep. Jon Lundberg’s to lose.

Lundberg has the money, more than $100,000 in his campaign account at the end of this year’s first quarter, according to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

The Bristol Republican also has other resources — namely his marketing and public relations agency — to craft his message and reach out to voters.

Lundberg, a former television news anchor, also has the military background as a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve.

He has name identification in both Kingsport and Bristol thanks to how his House District 1 boundary is drawn.

The Senate District 4 August GOP Primary ballot has four candidates, but Lundberg’s main competition without question is former state Rep. Tony Shipley whose last political campaign did not end well.

Shipley, of Colonial Heights, lost an August 2014 Republican Primary race to state Rep. Bud Hulsey by more than 1,500 votes.

Shipley, an Air Force veteran who was denied a fourth term in office, had been under attack in direct mail pieces and television ads from a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group called Advance Tennessee.

“It was the most despicable, nasty, dirty campaign I’ve ever seen in my life,” Shipley said of the Advance Tennessee attacks on election night. “It was embarrassing it was done that way, when you have a super PAC (political action committee) blow your brains out for about a month. I guess you can expect those things to happen. ... Negative campaigning works.”

The group had linked Shipley’s voting record to President Barack Obama and Tennessee House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

“We simply can’t afford Tony Shipley anymore,” said one 2014 Advance Tennessee mailer. “He has more in common with Obama and West Tennessee liberals than he does with East Tennessee conservative Republicans.”

Shipley himself used similar tactics to defeat Democrat Nathan Vaughn of Kingsport in 2008 and 2010.

As this race plays out, it will be interesting to see which third party advocacy groups emerge to attack or support either Lundberg or Shipley.

Shipley also had been at odds with Kingsport’s elected leadership since his 2012 campaign when he narrowly won the Republican Primary over former Kingsport Alderman Ben Mallicote by 10 votes, although Shipley actually lost the primary day vote. Absentee and early voting came through for him.

No Democrat has filed to run for the state Senate seat, but I wouldn’t expect many Sullivan County Democrats to support Shipley as they cross over and vote in the Republican Primary.

Following the close race against Mallicote in 2012, Shipley and another House Republican approached Harwell about the idea of party registration and closed primaries. The Tennessee Republican State Executive Committee subsequently voted down a resolution that supported closed primary elections. Former Tennessee GOP Chairman Chris Devaney noted closure could “slow or stop the trend of Democrats and Independents moving into the Republican fold.”

Ramsey also wasn’t sold on Shipley’s move.

“I’m hesitant about that because we have gained (Republican) majorities in the state Senate and state House, and the way we’ve done that is literally hundreds of thousands of people across this state decide they are no longer Democrats and they want to be Republicans,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said in 2012. “When I came in the state House (in the 1990s), I’m not sure there were one or two Republicans serving west of the Tennessee River, and now it is almost all Republicans. I’m not sure we want to tell those (Democratic voters) they are not welcome in our party.”

Lundberg’s main challenge would appear to be introducing himself to and getting love from Carter and Johnson counties where I suspect he has little name recognition in the eastern portion of the Senate district.

But while Lundberg seems to have no political headwinds, Shipley’s main challenge is to rise above the briar patch of issues that led to his 2014 defeat.

Hank Hayes covers politics and business and can be reached at [email protected]

Kingsport Times News Videos