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Party Officials Could Decide Henry-Yarbro Race

The Tennessee Democratic Party has yet to decide whether it will allow a recount in a state Senate race that could possibly dethrone a long-time legislative veteran.

The unofficial vote totals in the race between Sen. Douglas Henry and Jeff Yarbro have changed four times since the Aug. 5 primary election. The results always leave a slim margin between the two Nashville Democrats, generally indicating Henry is the winner.

But ultimately in Tennessee, the political parties have the final say on who continues on to the general election in November — despite the vote totals.

State law gives political parties the authority to change the primary election winner if  one of the candidates contests the results.

“The state primary board shall hear and determine the contest and make the disposition of the contest which justice and fairness require, including setting aside the election if necessary,” according to state code.

Changing the primary election winner is rare, according to Keith Talley, spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party. But it happened two years ago when the party’s executive committee stripped away Clarksville state Sen. Rosalind Kurita’s 19-vote lead and gave the win to her challenger, Tim Barnes.

The Adams Democrat, who currently sits in the Senate, contested the election by alleging Republicans were encouraged to vote for Kurita in the race.

Holding a primary election that year cost $4.5 million — but the state picked up the tab because it was a presidential election year.

The Secretary of State’s office predicts the cost will be the same this year — although it is paid by local municipalities during gubernatorial election cycles. Conducting a primary, where voters choose who they want to run in the general election, could cost about $200,000 in taxpayer dollars in Davidson County alone.

Whether all the votes are recounted or kept intact in the 21st state Senate district — covering Nashville’s west and south sides — is yet to be determined.

The race between Henry and Yarbro narrowed to 11 from 13 votes Monday after Davidson County election officials discovered a voting machine that had never been counted.

Yarbro, a 33-year-old lawyer, has asked for a speedy recount from Davidson County. Local election commission chairman Lynn Greer said no, he told TNReport, saying it sets a bad precedent.

Yarbro’s attorney said in a statement shortly after the election that he believes some absentee votes were miscounted.

“At this point, we have a question of math, not politics,” read the message from attorney Wally Dietz.

As of Monday, 5,731 ballots were cast for Henry and 5,720 were recorded for Yarbro — leaving an unofficial 11-vote difference, according to Ray Barrett, Davidson County election administrator.

Yarbro officially asked the Democratic Party’s Executive Committee for a recount Tuesday.

“Obviously, we’re troubled by the changing tallies and the resulting uncertainty. The need for a recount could not be clearer,” he said in a press release.

Before Democrats can act, the Davidson County Election Commission must first certify the election results, which is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 23.

Once the votes are certified by the county, the state Democratic Party can ratify the results, authorize a recount or hear arguments contesting the race.

Yarbro has indicated he’s interested in a recount, but has not tipped his hand as to whether he’ll contest the race itself. Repeated calls to his campaign headquarters and his lawyer were not returned Monday.

Democratic Party officials say they can’t remember the last time they OK’d a recount.

If the Democratic Executive Committee’s 65 members allow Yarbro a recount, Davidson County election officials will have to check roughly 200 absentee ballots by hand and re-tally the vote totals from election day, according to Barrett.

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Ramsey Goes It Alone At Putnam County Forum

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey got up from his chair on the stage Tuesday night in Cookeville and ambled over to pick up two more.

He took them over and sat them down, one on each side of his.

One chair represented Bill Haslam. One represented Zach Wamp. And Ramsey addressed the empty chairs periodically throughout the evening.

Putnam County Republicans held a forum for all three of the three front-running gubernatorial candidates Tuesday, but it didn’t work out that way. With Wamp and Haslam no-shows, Ramsey had the stage — and the audience of about 100 people — all to himself.

He didn’t appear to mind.

There were no time limits, and seemingly no limits to the questions the partisan audience had for the candidate.

But Ramsey slogged it out for about 90 minutes onstage, occasionally pausing to offer the empty chairs a chance to join the discussion. “Right, Zach?” he would ask. Or, “We’ll let Haslam answer this one.”

But neither the congressman nor the mayor laid a glove on the lieutenant governor that night.

And Ramsey probably won a lot of votes in the hall just by showing up. Organizers seemed frustrated by the circumstance, but there was a refreshing twist to a candidate being able to answer a question in full without a bell ringing shortly after he began to speak.

After Ramsey gave his basic stump speech, Ramsey plunged right into the Q&A — the first question was about Sharia law and Islam, which has become a hot topic in the state most notably with the controversy over a proposed mosque in Rutherford County.

Ramsey declared that he welcomes any other faith in this country, but that an attempt to bring other “law” here simply can’t be allowed.

“Here’s the deal. If someone wants to come to this country and be a freedom-loving person who wants to live within our laws that’s fine. There are Muslims who do that, who want to live in our society. They become one of us. They follow our Constitution. They follow our law. They’re freedom-loving. That’s great. That’s what this country is all about,” Ramsey said.

“But, and this is indisputable, there is a radical faction that has taken over a portion of this that the freedom-loving Muslims need to push back on just a tad. When you’re promoting violence I don’t think that can possibly be any kind of religion. As far as Sharia law, when you come over here, you agree you’re moving to the United States, therefore, you’re going to live under our Constitution,” to which someone in the audience yelled “amen.”

It goes back to the way the nation was founded, Ramsey asserted.

“You’re going to live under our laws that were founded under Judeo-Christian principles. That’s what you do when you come here,” he said. “Don’t come over here bringing your laws and want to change us into that. This is what made us the greatest country in the world.

“I appreciate the First Amendment that gives the freedom of religion. I also appreciate the Second Amendment, the Tenth Amendment. Anybody who comes here ought to also appreciate the Constitution and the laws and live under those laws here in the United States.”

Ramsey laid out his plans for K-12 education as well as higher education, emphasizing how good the state’s community colleges and technology centers are for educating a workforce. He said he favors keeping the sales tax on food because it is part of a tax structure he likes and prevents moving toward an income tax.

Ramsey discussed his ideas for utilizing local health departments to help manage health care needs in the state. He said he is ready to be a “super-salesman” for Tennessee attracting business as governor and said, although he wrestles with the issue, he is leaning toward favoring closed primary elections where people cannot cross over and vote in a party other than their own. The state currently has an open primary process.

“You don’t want people who really aren’t in your party to choose your nominee,” he said. “That’s just wrong.”

He said he frequently hears Tennesseans say they are registered as a Republicans or Democrats but that the reality is they’re not.

Ramsey expressed a fair amount of frustration that his campaign has siphoned up a healthy $3.5 million in contributions, and still he’s been financially overshadowed by Haslam, whose campaign has raised over $8 million. Ramsey said he is not in favor of term limits, saying people have the right to vote people out of office. And he said he is the only candidate in the race with experience in state government.

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Transparency and Elections

Early Voting Patterns Have Wamp Smelling Upset

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp credits U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn with defining a political trend in Tennessee that he believes will help him win the governor’s race.

“She calls it Middle to West. What happened 10 years ago in Middle Tennessee is now happening in West Tennessee,” Wamp said.

“It’s a grassroots, blue-collar, red-blooded, lower-to-middle to middle-class new Republican voter. It’s not the country club people Bill Haslam appeals to,” Wamp said. “He really has nowhere to go. That’s good.”

Whether there is truth in Wamp’s assessment of how to nominate a Republican to replace Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen only the results of the Aug. 5 primary will tell.

But whether the Republican votes in the governor’s race are going to Wamp, Haslam or Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the number of Republican voters in early voting compared to Democrats is overwhelming.

Figures from the state Division of Elections updated Monday showed that 249,709 ballots had been cast in early and absentee voting. The balloting includes Democratic and Republican primaries for governor and the state’s congressional races, as well as legislative races. Of the total number of voters, 156,338 cast Republican primary ballots, compared to 78,657 for Democrats.

A closer look shows that of Tennessee’s 95 counties, Republicans have the majority of ballots cast in 74 of them, compared to 21 counties with Democratic majorities. What has looked like a tidal wave of Republican support over the last few months at Republican events appears to be manifesting itself in early voting.

Much of the disparity might well be attributed to the fact Democrats have little motivation to vote in the primary, since in the governor’s race Mike McWherter is the only Democrat still running and is sure to win the nomination. A ruggedly combative race in the Republican primary pits Wamp of Chattanooga, Knoxville’s Haslam and Ramsey of Blountville in the hunt.

A recent Mason Dixon poll by the Tennessee Newspaper Network, a partnership among the state’s four major newspapers, showed Haslam leading the Republican pack with 36 percent of the vote, followed by Wamp with 25 percent and Ramsey with 20 percent, with 17 percent undecided.

“It’s almost impossible to poll people in a primary,” Ramsey said. “People are examining the issues, and they’re coming toward me.”

But the Democrat, McWherter, seems to believe the Republican choice will be Haslam. McWherter issued a press release Monday in which his campaign manager, Kim Sasser Hayden, said, “As Bill Haslam spends millions of dollars trying to defend his record of raising property taxes, price gouging Tennesseans at the gas pump and hiding his vast oil wealth, Tennessee voters realize he is not the character he has tried to create in his television ads.”

McWherter also announced a campaign television ad, which focuses on his plan to create jobs and boost the economy.

Haslam’s lead in the primary would appear to be commanding by following recent polls, which makes it all the more intriguing that the Knoxville mayor put up a one-minute television ad recently defending himself against Wamp’s attacks and launching some of his own at the congressman. Wamp has tried to paint Haslam as a rich kid and an oil man. Haslam, whose family has built a fortune with its Pilot Travel Centers, makes voters aware in his ad that Wamp has participated in Washington’s spending ways and never had to balance a budget.

Ramsey, who has the support of tea party organizers, is painting himself as the one true conservative with the legislative experience to be governor. Ramsey is hitting both Haslam and Wamp in his advertising, capitalizing on issues similar to theirs.

Haslam’s latest ad leads to the question of why a candidate with a double-digit lead would bother to air a negative response ad, unless there is more to the reason for the ad than Haslam is letting on. He has said the title of the ad, “Enough Is Enough,” says it all about its intention. Haslam said he just got tired of what he was putting up with from Wamp.

Ramsey said the Haslam campaign thought it would coast to victory.

“They went to the four corners offense and tried to run the clock out and way too soon,” Ramsey said. “He’s literally trying to ride this out. You can’t dodge the voters and expect to win. They’re (the Haslam campaign) in free fall. They know they’re in free fall. They’re not in panic mode yet, but I think they’re getting close to it.”

Yet Ramsey and Wamp trail in the polls, which gets back to Wamp’s point.

“Polling doesn’t show where people are voting heavy or voting light,” Wamp said. “Just watch what happens. Where people are voting in bigger numbers is where I am going to do better. We’re watching that constantly in early voting.

“I do well in rural counties. I wanted to do a certain percentage of the total vote, and they’re 8 points higher. What does that mean? It means a lot of traditional Democrats in rural counties in places like the 8th District are voting Republican for the first time ever. I’m doing very well there.”

Of the 21 counties where there have been more people voting in the Democratic primary than in the Republican primary, five are in the 8th Congressional District in West Tennessee, where Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron is the likely nominee against a field of three Republicans — Stephen Fincher, Ron Kirkland and George Flinn — who are in a fierce battle.

Six of the Democrats’ majority counties are in the 6th Congressional District, where state Sens. Diane Black and Jim Tracy and former businesswoman Lou Ann Zelenik are waging a tough Republican primary battle. Two war veterans, Brett Carter and Ben Leming, head the Democratic field in the 6th.

Five of the Democrats’ 21 majority counties in early voting are in the 4th Congressional District, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis awaits the survivor of a crowded field of Republicans.

As expected Democrats are casting the majority of ballots in the state’s two biggest urban counties, Davidson (which is Nashville) and Shelby (which includes Memphis). Republicans have cast the majority of early-voting ballots in Hamilton County (Chattanooga) and Knox County (Knoxville).

Knox County, home to Haslam, has cast 13,951 Republican ballots in early voting to 1,166 for Democrats.

Republicans Showing Force in Early Voting

By Mike Morrow

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp credits U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn with defining a political trend in Tennessee that he believes will help him win the governor’s race.

“She calls it Middle to West. What happened 10 years ago in Middle Tennessee is now happening in West Tennessee,” Wamp said.

“It’s a grassroots, blue-collar, red-blooded, lower-to-middle to middle-class new Republican voter. It’s not the country club people Bill Haslam appeals to,” Wamp said. “He really has nowhere to go. That’s good.”

Whether there is truth in Wamp’s assessment of how to nominate a Republican to replace Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen only the results of the Aug. 5 primary will tell.

But whether the Republican votes in the governor’s race are going to Wamp, Haslam or Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the number of Republican voters in early voting compared to Democrats is overwhelming.

Figures from the state Division of Elections updated Monday showed that 249,709 ballots had been cast in early and absentee voting. The balloting includes Democratic and Republican primaries for governor and the state’s congressional races, as well as legislative races. Of the total number of voters, 156,338 cast Republican primary ballots, compared to 78,657 for Democrats.

A closer look shows that of Tennessee’s 95 counties, Republicans have the majority of ballots cast in 74 of them, compared to 21 counties with Democratic majorities. What has looked like a tidal wave of Republican support over the last few months at Republican events appears to be manifesting itself in early voting.

Much of the disparity might well be attributed to the fact Democrats have little motivation to vote in the primary, since in the governor’s race Mike McWherter is the only Democrat still running and is sure to win the nomination. A ruggedly combative race in the Republican primary pits Wamp of Chattanooga, Knoxville’s Haslam and Ramsey of Blountville in the hunt.

A recent Mason Dixon poll by the Tennessee Newspaper Network, a partnership among the state’s four major newspapers, showed Haslam leading the Republican pack with 36 percent of the vote, followed by Wamp with 25 percent and Ramsey with 20 percent, with 17 percent undecided.

“It’s almost impossible to poll people in a primary,” Ramsey said. “People are examining the issues, and they’re coming toward me.”

But the Democrat, McWherter, seems to believe the Republican choice will be Haslam. McWherter issued a press release Monday in which his campaign manager, Kim Sasser Hayden, said, “As Bill Haslam spends millions of dollars trying to defend his record of raising property taxes, price gouging Tennesseans at the gas pump and hiding his vast oil wealth, Tennessee voters realize he is not the character he has tried to create in his television ads.”

McWherter also announced a campaign television ad, which focuses on his plan to create jobs and boost the economy.

Haslam’s lead in the primary would appear to be commanding by following recent polls, which makes it all the more intriguing that the Knoxville mayor put up a one-minute television ad recently defending himself against Wamp’s attacks and launching some of his own at the congressman. Wamp has tried to paint Haslam as a rich kid and an oil man. Haslam, whose family has built a fortune with its Pilot Travel Centers, makes voters aware in his ad that Wamp has participated in Washington’s spending ways and never had to balance a budget.

Ramsey, who has the support of tea party organizers, is painting himself as the one true conservative with the legislative experience to be governor. Ramsey is hitting both Haslam and Wamp in his advertising, capitalizing on issues similar to theirs.

Haslam’s latest ad leads to the question of why a candidate with a double-digit lead would bother to air a negative response ad, unless there is more to the reason for the ad than Haslam is letting on. He has said the title of the ad, “Enough Is Enough,” says it all about its intention. Haslam said he just got tired of what he was putting up with from Wamp.

Ramsey said the Haslam campaign thought it would coast to victory.

“They went to the four corners offense and tried to run the clock out and way too soon,” Ramsey said. “He’s literally trying to ride this out. You can’t dodge the voters and expect to win. They’re (the Haslam campaign) in free fall. They know they’re in free fall. They’re not in panic mode yet, but I think they’re getting close to it.”

Yet Ramsey and Wamp trail in the polls, which gets back to Wamp’s point.

“Polling doesn’t show where people are voting heavy or voting light,” Wamp said. “Just watch what happens. Where people are voting in bigger numbers is where I am going to do better. We’re watching that constantly in early voting.

“I do well in rural counties. I wanted to do a certain percentage of the total vote, and they’re 8 points higher. What does that mean? It means a lot of traditional Democrats in rural counties in places like the 8th District are voting Republican for the first time ever. I’m doing very well there.”

Of the 21 counties where there have been more people voting in the Democratic primary than in the Republican primary, five are in the 8th Congressional District in West Tennessee, where Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron is the likely nominee against a field of three Republicans — Stephen Fincher, Ron Kirkland and George Flinn — who are in a fierce battle.

Six of the Democrats’ majority counties are in the 6th Congressional District, where state Sens. Diane Black and Jim Tracy and former businesswoman Lou Ann Zelenik are waging a tough Republican primary battle. Two war veterans, Brett Carter and Ben Leming, head the Democratic field in the 6th.

Five of the Democrats’ 21 majority counties in early voting are in the 4th Congressional District, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis awaits the survivor of a crowded field of Republicans.

As expected Democrats are casting the majority of ballots in the state’s two biggest urban counties, Davidson (which is Nashville) and Shelby (which includes Memphis). Republicans have cast the majority of early-voting ballots in Hamilton County (Chattanooga) and Knox County (Knoxville).

Knox County, home to Haslam, has cast 13,951 Republican ballots in early voting to 1,166 for Democrats.

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Sparks Fly at Debate: GOP Rivals Try to Burn Haslam on Fuel Company Ties

A couple Republican candidates for governor used rival Bill Haslam as an onstage punching bag Thursday, harping on his refusal to release details about his personal income from his family business.

GOP hopeful Bill Gibbons, Shelby County’s district attorney, called the Knoxville mayor out during a gubernatorial debate in downtown Nashville for not revealing how much income he earns from Pilot Corp., the truck-stop chain the Haslams have built into something of a national gas- and diesel-station empire.

“Frankly, he has a conflict of interest, because every time the state of Tennessee has a major highway project, Pilot Oil has an interest. He doesn’t want us to know the scope of that conflict of interest,” said Gibbons.

Congressman Zach Wamp didn’t want to miss out on the action, and he, too, took a poke at Haslam when the opportunity arose.

He didn’t name any names, but it was obvious to everyone in the room who Wamp was referring to when he opined that transparency should begin before being elected to office.

“On Wall Street, they say too big to fail. And I wonder here if one family or one corporation is too big to be held accountable like everyone else,” he said.

Haslam declined to share his details about his personal income. But he didn’t hesitate to fire back at his detractors for what he described as their seeming sleights to his family’s entrepreneurialism and success.

“It bothers me to hear somebody say a Tennessee company that started as a small business has grown to be a national company, that there’s something wrong with that,” said Haslam.

Haslam is the only Republican candidate who so far hasn’t release personal income records as requested by a band of Tennessee’s large newspapers. Those records are not public and are not required to be released to run for political office.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is also running in the August primary election, stayed out of the Haslam-centered spat.

Also participating in the debate co-hosted by the Tennessee Press Association and The Associated Press were Senate Democrat Leader Jim Kyle, former House Democrat Leader Kim McMillan and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter.