Incumbent Tennessee Democrats evaded the kind of thrashing administered by legislative primary voters to their Republican counterparts. But they didn’t come away entirely unbloodied either.
Five incumbent Democrats were voted out of office Thursday. Among them were four who lost against fellow lawmakers who they were pitted against as a part of redistricting, and one culled by a Democratic challenger.
Heading into the November general election, the minority party now can focus on their an uphill battle trying to recover from two years ago when Democrats lost 14 seats in the House and one in the Senate.
“We’ve had a little dip in the road here and we need to make sure Tennessee stays focused on those three things, jobs, education and good fiscal management,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who faces his own re-election challenger in November.
“We have some very good candidates. If people would just give them a look we could elect some and we can overcome the problems we had in redistricting and retirements,” he said.
GOP-directed redistricting earlier this year merged Democrat-leaning districts and resulted in the purging of four rank-and-file incumbent Democrats from Legislature. Other Democrats saw the writing on the wall and opted to retire this year in lieu of running uphill races against Republicans.
Of those ousted was Memphis Sen. Beverly Marrero, a high-ranking Democrat who had served the Legislature for the better part of a decade. She lost her seat to to Minority Leader Jim Kyle by 10 percentage points, a result of Republicans pinning the two against each other after Kyle asked that he be placed in Marrero’s district instead of that of neighboring Republican Brian Kelsey.
Also in Memphis, Rep. John Deberry outdistanced Rep. Jeanne Richardson while Rep. G.A. Hardaway beat out Rep. Mike Kernell, a veteran lawmaker whose career spanned four decades. Both races won on nearly 2-to-1 margins.
The race was even clearer in Chattanooga where Rep. Joanne Favors defeated Rep. Tommie Brown on an almost 3-to-1 margin, winning 3,957 votes to Brown’s 1,514.
But that wasn’t the last of the Democratic defeats Thursday. Longtime Nashville Rep. Mary Pruitt fell to challenger Harrold Love by a mere 41 votes.
The election isn’t over for Kyle and Favors, though, as they both face off against Republicans in the November election.
Even as Democrats lick their wounds, they’re hopeful general election voters will reject the victorious crop of conservative upstarts who picked off incumbent Republicans on Aug. 2.
“You don’t want to ever think negatively about your opponents getting beaten in the primary and all that, but the fact is this can only be encouraging to the general election on our side,” said Fitzhugh, adding the defeats will ultimately make for “a little different complexion on the ultimate makeup of the General Assembly.”
A GOP leadership crisis means opportunities for Democrats, Sen. Lowe Finney, the Democratic Caucus chairman, said in a press release Friday. “When you look at the number of incumbents unseated last night, it’s clear the Legislature will be a very different place next year,” he said. “I’m confident the Democrats can be very influential in that environment.”
Among the ousted GOPs were high-ranking leaders like Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart and Education Chairman Richard Montgomery.
But even as Republicans regroup after this week’s political upsets and await to hear if the results of close races will be challenged, they argue they still see Democrats as “at a severe disadvantage” in the general election, said state GOP Party Chairman Chris Devaney.