Starting in 1978, there's been a pattern in Tennessee gubernatorial elections — two terms for a Republican, two for a Democrat, back and forth. With term-limited Democrat Phil Bredesen completing his eight years as governor, Republicans say it's now their turn.
And they may be right, given the political mood in the state. But the five-way GOP primary has been somewhat bizarre as of late, with some of the leading candidates attracting national attention for making somewhat controversial comments.
Rep. Zach Wamp, who represents the oddly-shaped 3rd Congressional District in the east (which includes Chattanooga), said last month that in light of the mandates included in the health care bill passed by Congress, Tennessee might want to consider secession; he later backtracked from that.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, backed by various Tea Party groups in the state, stepped into a religious brouhaha when he questioned, in a discussion over why there should not be an expansion of a mosque in Murfreesboro, whether Islam is actually a religion.
Also running is Bill Haslam, the mayor of Knoxville. I'm not sure if he's delved into any controversies lately.
And then there's the candidacy of one Basil Marceaux, whose, um, different campaign platform has become an Internet sensation and which amuses Jeff Woods, blogging for Nashville Scene:
The previously obscure fourth candidate in the Republican governor's race, Marceaux made a bizarre appearance on WSMV-Channel 4's evening news show in which he swayed on his feet as he stated his crackpot campaign's incoherent platform.
"Hi, I'm Basil Marceaux dot com," he began in a bit of web savvy marketing (except that's not his campaign's Internet address). Among his ideas:
• "Everyone carry guns. If you kill someone, though, you get murdered and go to jail."
• "Vote for me and if I win I will immune you from all state crimes for the rest of you life."
Marceaux's performance crackled across the Internet like a Paris Hilton sex video, and a star was born.
Haslam is seen as a potential frontrunner in today's primary. Whoever the GOP winner is, he will face businessman Mike McWherter (D), son of former Gov. Ned McWherter, in November.
Tennessee has an open primary. With no statewide Democratic contest to speak of — McWherter is unopposed — many Democrats are expected to cross over and vote in the GOP primary. Two good blog posts here on the implications: Jesse Fox Mayshark, writing at the the Knoxville News blog , and Michael Cass, blogging at the Nashville Tennessean.
Regardless of the controversies during the primary season, Republicans are favored to take back the governorship in November. The Tennesseean's Chas Sisk writes about the growing GOP trend in the state:
Forty-four years after Republicans could not even get a gubernatorial candidate onto the ballot, the party's primary for governor, and some congressional seats, is seen by many as the decisive race in Tennessee, flipping the script on Democrats' longtime domination of the state.
Sisk is referring to the 1966 gubernatorial election, where Buford Ellington, a former Democratic governor seeking a comeback after sitting out a term, swamped two independents who made it onto the ballot. Four years later, Winfield Dunn became the state's first GOP governor since the early 1920s.
Several House primaries to watch today:
3rd District — Zach Wamp (R) running for governor. Eleven Republicans are running in this solidly GOP district, with the frontrunners thought to be former state GOP chair Robin Smith and attorney Chuck Fleischmann.
6th District — Bart Gordon (D) retiring. Republicans smell blood in this open district, held by Gordon since 1984 (and Al Gore before that). Leading Republican candidates battling in what has become a nasty primary include state Sens. Diane Black and Jim Tracy, as well as Lou Ann Zelenik, a former local GOP county chair.
8th District — John Tanner (D), a founder of the Blue Dog coalition, retiring. The GOP establishment is behind farmer Stephen Fincher, who has two strong opponents. The Democratic nominee will be state Sen. Roy Herron.
9th District — This seat has no chance at all of changing hands in November but it has received the most ink. It's a black-majority district that elected a white Democrat, Steve Cohen, in 2006 when Harold Ford Jr. departed to run for the Senate and when a gazillion black candidates insisted on staying in the primary, which is why Cohen won. This seat has been the scene of overt racial appeals by black candidates and black ministers ever since, the argument being that a black congressman should represent a black district. That's what Cohen faced in an ugly 2008 primary and it's back again this year, with his opponent being former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. By now, however, Cohen has made serious inroads into the black community and, armed with endorsements from President Obama as well as some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, is strongly favored to defeat Herenton.