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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Not The Best Night–or Week–for the Right

Tennessee’s primary yesterday featured a bunch of wild Republican primaries in which the accustomed dominance of the hard-core Right wasn’t always confirmed. In the gubernatorial contest, Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam smoked two rivals, congressman Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who constantly warned he wasn’t conservative enough. Wamp tried to mobilize the Christian Right behind his candidacy, while Ramsey spent much of drive stretch on gun ranges.
In Wamp’s district, the endorsee of both the Club for Growth and the Family Research Council, former state GOP chair Robin Smith, lost narrowly to talk-show host Chuck Fleischmann.
In the open 6th District, perhaps the state’s most hateful contest, conservative activist Lou Ann Zelenik tried to make the race about the awful specter of Sharia Law being imposed on the good Christian folk of Tennessee via a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro. But she would up running a close second to state senator Diane Black in a result largely dictated by geography.
And in Jim Cooper’s 5th district, candidates endorsed by Sarah Palin (CeCe Heil) and Mike Huckabee (Jeff Hartline) lost to businessman David Hall.
To be very clear, it’s not as though moderation is breaking out in TN GOP circles. The 8th district landslide winner, Stephen Fincher, was endorsed by right-to-life and gun rights groups. Black’s campaign web page includes a long paen to constitutional literalism and the 10th amendment. Hall’s talks about his determination to fight “socialistic” government. And Fleischmann benefitted from a Huckabee endorsement and the services of Huckabee’s 2008 campaign manager, Chip Saltsman.
Haslam’s a big-time right-to-lifer who spent a good part of the campaign denying he had any interest in creating an income tax and trying to prove his gun-nut bona fides (he got into trouble in Knoxville once by supporting a gun buy-back program).
But all in all, it wasn’t the best week for those who think the GOP is a dangerously liberal institution that needs a hard shove to the Right, what with Mike Cox and Pete Hoekstra losing in MI, Todd Tiahrt losing in KS, and now Wamp, Ramsey, Smith, Zelenik, Hartline and Heil all bombing in TN. The Republican Party remains right-bent, but it’s good to know that its primary voters don’t always pull the lever for the shrillest, angriest candidate available.

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