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GOP salivating over Democrat Gordon's Tennessee congressional seat

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

February 9, 2010

When 13-term US Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) announced his retirement late last month, Tennessee’s 6th District (Murfreesboro, etc.) Republican politicos began licking their chops. Gordon, who took Al Gore’s (D) seat in Congress in 1982 and has a well-established reputation among his constituents, has held the seat mostly without problems, but over the years the suburban Nashville/Republican part of the district has grown, and the district – which gave John McCain 62% to Barack Obama’s 37% in 2008 – is not pleased with the Obama Administration’s domestic agenda. Other demographics also favor the GOP. In addition to suburban Nashville, small towns and rural areas dominate the district, which is 86% white, 7% black, 4% Hispanic and 1% Asian. 

Given all these factors, the battle to succeed Gordon “is on the Republican side,” says a long-time Volunteer State journalist, adding that “The Democrats have their hands full in the 8th and the 4th Districts,” where other strong Republican campaigns are in the making.

At least six hopefuls are running in the GOP Primary: State Sens. Jim Tracy and Diane Black; Lou Ann Zelenik, a former Rutherford County Republican Chairman; retired federal employee Dave Evans; Gary Mann, who lives outside the district; and accountant Kerry Roberts. 

Tracy and Black are the current favorites for the GOP nod. Tracy had planned to run prior to Gordon’s retirement announcement, so he had a head start. “He’s a pretty formidable candidate,” says the journalist. Zelenik, a TEA Party activist, was also already running.  “She has her own money and she’s using it,” says the journalist, “so you can’t count her out.” 

On the money front, the 4th Quarter financial reports show that Zelenik had $355,000 cash on hand at year’s end, with a $279,000 debt. Tracy had $259,000, with no debt, indicating he raised far more money than his competitors. And Black had $150,000, with a $100,000 debt. Evans had raised about $26,000 by year’s end, with no cash-on-hand number available. 

Although no Democrat has yet to announce for the seat, Chip Forrester, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, tells SPR, “We’re in discussions with a number of different people about running. We certainly are working aggressively to recruit a candidate… We’re hoping for a moderate, business-oriented candidate.” 

Forrester expects his party will be aided by “a very bloody Republican Primary.” He also says that Zelenik “is the TEA Party candidate” and that a member of Black’s staff was responsible for distribution of a racist anti-Obama email last year. He concludes that “the Republican nominee may be to the right of the district.” 

The 6th District is one of three in Tennessee currently held by Democrats that could go to the Republicans this fall. The others are the 8th (Jackson, etc.), where US Rep. John Tanner (D) announced he will not seek reelection, and the 4th (Sewanee, etc.), where four term US Rep. Lincoln Davis (D) is facing a tough GOP challenge. In the 8th, McCain beat Obama 56% to 43%, and in the 4th, McCain prevailed 64% to 35%.  

Outgoing Congressman Gordon (D) rose to a position of influence in the House, chairing the Science and Technology Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee. He maintained a moderate voting record, reflecting the suburban, small town and rural character of his district: 61% liberal, 39% conservative, says the National Journal.

At this point, the seat is a Likely Republican pickup.


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