State GOP primary shapes up for a knock-down, drag-out affair

Sunday, February 26, 2012 at 10:05pm

When Tennessee joined forces with other states to create “Super Tuesday” in 1984, they hoped for a primary like the one coming up March 6.

The idea was that by bunching primary elections in a single day, all the states would gain increased relevancy.

But the Republican primary in Tennessee has historically lacked drama. It was a tight race in 2008, when Mike Huckabee edged John McCain — but McCain already had a convincing lead after a win in Florida.

This year, though, the fight for the Volunteer State delegates — which are awarded proportionally — is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested primary races in recent history.

“As it stands right now, this will be the first time in a long time Tennessee has really made a difference in the Republican presidential primary,” Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said. “All four candidates recognize that Tennessee will matter. ... One way or the other, they are going to be actively campaigning in our state.”

One way could be Gov. Mitt Romney’s method of buying TV time, soliciting big-time donors and tapping the state’s first family, including Gov. Bill Haslam, to lead his Tennessee campaign.

The other way might be like Sen. Rick Santorum’s effort — a growing but comparatively cash-strapped campaign that relies on shaking hands and the indelible emphasis on family values.

Those two, joined by a surge-hungry Newt Gingrich and libertarian Ron Paul, are eyeing the state.

All of the campaigns have their Tennessee talking points: Santorum leads the latest poll, Romney has the most organization and resources, Gingrich is making strides in fundraising, and Paul is cultivating the grassroots.

So as March 6 nears by the second, Tennessee Republicans are asking: “Are you ready to rumble?”



On a recent afternoon, Santorum supporter and state organizer Kay White of Johnson City fielded a conference call from two elderly women. They had decided to vote for Gingrich, after certain media reports said Santorum didn’t have a chance to beat President Barack Obama in the general election.

“From the get-go, I have been for Santorum’s principles, issues,” one of the women said. “You know, all along, I thought we needed to go more with the person who is doing right — rather than following what people tell us to do.”

And with his surge in the polls, White said she’s heard from a lot of people who are flipping to Santorum, who has built his campaign on social conservative values.

“The generalization of the people of Tennessee is that they are wonderful, God-fearing people and we’re looking for a leader like that,” White said. “I call him the heartbeat of America.”

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) is supporting Santorum — and also believes that people are tiring of Romney and Gingrich’s styles of politicking.

“It’s kind of like a girl out dating folks,” Dunn said. “The first person she dates has a lot of money and a flashy car, but after a while she realizes there’s not a whole lot to the guy. Then she dates the guy who is in the rock band, and everything’s all exciting, but after a while, she says, ‘You know, he’s not the kind of guy I’d like to raise children with.’

“Then finally, she gets back to the boy next door who’s been there the whole time, and she discovers him as true love. And true love is breaking out in Tennessee for Rick Santorum.”

While “true love” isn’t a typical choice on surveys, Santorum led the latest poll in Tennessee — despite only raising $38,367 in the state.

“He may very well win Tennessee because he is very in-sync with people who vote in Republican primaries in Tennessee — much more so than Mitt Romney. He’s become the viable alternative as opposed to Newt,” said Richard Land, a radio host and president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Land acknowledged that Santorum, despite increased media attention and scrutiny, is still a relative unknown — and that his next steps will be crucial.

“It’s up to Rick to sell himself. If I were advising him, I would say don’t talk about Satan, talk about evil. Talk about traditional values vs. postmodernism and let people define themselves,” Land said. 



While the spotlight has shifted to Santorum, Romney still has the most organization and support in Tennessee. The former Massachusetts governor is the only candidate with a full slate of delegates — which Tennessee GOP chairman Devaney said could help his campaign.

“It shows that you have some sort of organization. ... it’s a good thing for you to have delegates on the ballot,” Devaney said.

Conversely, Santorum didn’t have any delegates register by the end-of-the-year deadline — meaning the campaign has to work with the state executive committee to fill those spots.

Haslam, who was officially tapped as Romney’s campaign chair earlier this month, said Romney’s staying power and fiscal conservatism makes him the right choice for Tennessee.

“You’ve seen several different people come up and be the challenger. The one consistent on that is that Romney has been the person they’ve been challenging,” Haslam told The City Paper.

“He has the right experience, and he has the ability to take on the biggest issue we have in the country, which is the deficit. We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is spending a lot more than we’ve been bringing in.”

The pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, is the only purchaser of media advertising in Tennessee as of press time, according to the Federal Election Commission. Just last week, the PAC spent more than $500,000 in Tennessee on Internet advertising and “media buys” specifically targeted at opposing Santorum.

Romney has also raised nearly $1 million in campaign financing in Tennessee — more than three times as much as the nearest challenger, Ron Paul.

“We’re excited about the support and enthusiasm [in Tennessee] for Gov. Romney and ... leading up to Super Tuesday, we’re going to try to get our message out with our staffers and our volunteers that Mitt Romney is the best person to defeat President Obama in November,” said Amanda Henneberg, regional press secretary for the Romney campaign.

She also said Tennessee Republican voters should look at Romney’s background for proof of his conservative values.

“Voters can look at how he governed Massachusetts. He was a conservative governor in a very Democratic state,” Henneberg. “He consistently supported traditional marriage, he balanced budgets without raising taxes. It’s a very conservative record and he did that in a very Democratic state.” 



Political analysts have pointed to Bible Belt states (Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia) on Super Tuesday as Gingrich’s only chance at making up ground in the primary race. Gingrich’s campaign might feel the same.

So far, Gingrich is the only presidential candidate with a scheduled visit to Middle Tennessee. The former speaker of the House will be making the rounds at the state Capitol on Monday, hosting a talk on health care, participating in a meet-and-greet with state legislators and media, and holding a public rally on the East Grounds. 

Rep. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) is the co-chair of Gingrich’s campaign — and said he presents a strong choice for Tennesseans who care about the economy.

“Who’s going to be not just a business man, but actually pro-business? I think that’s Newt,” Campfield said. “He’s a very creative, dynamic guy, with a lot of ideas for moving our economy forward.”

Campfield, after the cover for this week’s City Paper was created, compared Gingrich to fictional boxing champ Rocky Balboa.

“If you look at the history of this Republican primary, we’ve had almost half a dozen people who have been leaders at one time or another. It’s been very fluid,” Campfield said. “But Newt Gingrich is sort of like the Rocky Balboa [of the Republican primary]. He’s been hit and knocked down, but he keeps getting back up and keeps fighting, and I think he’s going to do pretty well.”



Paul supporters held an event at Dan McGuinness Pub on Demonbreun Street last week, aptly titled “RonPaulapalusa,” to help boost grassroots efforts across the state in time for Super Tuesday.

Barry Donegan, who is Paul’s regional campaign manager for Tennessee, said the demand has been “overwhelming” for Paul yard signs.

“I think Tennessee is going to be grassroots vs. grassroots ... and we’ve had a pretty deep organization [from the beginning],” Donegan said.

It was unclear, as of press time, whether Paul would make any campaign stops in Tennessee, but Donegan said the national campaign has put the state-level organizers on notice.

According to Donegan, Tennessee’s percentage-based allocation of delegates could make the state attractive to Paul. 

“We’ve really been focusing on delegate strategy. Tennessee is the Volunteer State and could be a good place for Paul to campaign,” Donegan said. “We trust the national campaign to make that decision.”

That’s one Tennessee-based decision, along with many others, that campaigns will be forced to make over the next 10 days.

18 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 2/27/12 at 6:51

If one is a true conservative the field is very clear. Romney would get your
vote only in the general election, if he becomes the nominee, otherwise
there are two others-not three that should be the choice of this state!

By: gdiafante on 2/27/12 at 7:09

"I'm more Conservative than you are"

"Are not!"

"Are too"

"Are not!"

"Are too, are too, ARE TOO!"

"Are not, infinity."

By: athyrio on 2/27/12 at 7:35

Bad, worse, worst. Who cares?

By: joe41 on 2/27/12 at 8:25

Is that why hardly anybody came to Tennessee to campaign. They only come to raise money to spend in other states. I have only seen one ad. Tennessee is not important to ANY of the candidates.

By: Jughead on 2/27/12 at 8:31

I just hope Obama apologizes to somebody today.

By: TharonChandler on 2/27/12 at 8:36

Please allow me to offer a Sincere word of Thanks to Representative Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee; in regard to her recent activities in 'canvassing' the citizens of Lawrenceburg, TN. Allow me to say that I am shocked that Lawrence County is suddenly now listed to be within the 'Seventh Congressional district', of TN.

By: Moonglow1 on 2/27/12 at 9:05

Moonglow1: First they voted for Bush because he was the guy to have a beer with and he started two wars which is the reason why the country is bankrupt.

Now they (the party of ignorance) wants to vote for Santorum because he is the nice boy on a date even though he is a corrupt lobbyist who plans to curtail your freedom and start WW111.

This proves the media has influenced public perception to meet their goals which is to move America back to the dark ages. And the majority of people do not realize they are being duped. Oh the ignorance of the masses. How sweet it is for the manipulators of the media controlled by corporations and the wealthy whose agenda is a sinister one.

By: Bellecat on 2/27/12 at 9:14

“All four candidates recognize that Tennessee will matter. ... One way or the other, they are going to be actively campaigning in our state.”

This is not a positive. They are all liars anyway, and it gets old to have the constant barrage of tv, radio, online, print ads. etc. ad nauseum for literally years when these bozos decide they want to be "our representative". And what a waste of money--millions to get elected to a job paying thousands.

I wish we could make it illegal to campaign over two months. Just give all candidates a questionaire with all the relevant questions answered, and a one hour tv slot to air their platform. Then just let them go away and we poor suckers who have to make a decision will then pick the lesser evil of the lot. We as a nation desperately, desperately need to reform our election monstrosity.

By: Ask01 on 2/27/12 at 10:13

Bellecat, I believe you have an excellent point.

Honestly, by the time Election Day rolls around, most have been rendered numb by the attack ads, and tailored for the audience, canned speeches and press releases.

Some, as evidenced by the depressingly low turn out, have abandoned all hope and their right to vote, opting to stay home.

My impression is most politicians spend the first two years learning the job, where the bodies are buried, and which hindquarters need to be kissed the most passionately. The remainder are spent trying to win re-election. Often the only advantage returning an incumbent is the possibility of two productive years as they already know the job, bodies, and butts.

While we are in dire need of election reform, the best available right now is to vote any incumbent out each election just to keep them off guard.

I'll do my part since I loathe politicians in general and have no loyalty to any party of representative thereof.

Vote 'em all out! Let's make America a "right to work nation" for politicians so we can fire them at will, no questions asked.

By: pswindle on 2/27/12 at 11:16

The reason that the President and the Generals apologized, was to try and save lives. They undestand how difficult it is to deal with this type of people.
It makes no difference who comes to TN to ask for votes, when TN thinks that President Obama is a Muslim, what hope is there. It makes me ashamed.

By: Ask01 on 2/27/12 at 12:00

Regarding the religious preferences of any sitting politician or someone seeking a seat, allow me to make myself unpopular with probably everyone.

I don't really care what faith they profess, or if they declare to have none. The only statement I wish to hear, backed up by action, I might add, is they will not infringe, or allow others to infringe upon someone elses beliefs.

I want elected leaders to follow the basic precept upon which many religions and philosophies are essentially founded, even if certain sects or denominations have strayed far from the fold, which is what we know as the "Golden Rule."

If they, politicians practice an ethical and moral system which encompasses fairness, justice, tolerance and compassion, I don't truly care what or if they worship so long as they uphold the constitution and apply the aforementioned principles in that task.

There. I hope I haven't seriously offended anyone, but I do feel so much better.

Regarding the apology on the burning of the Quran(sp?) I agree with pswindle. The move was reasonable to help diffuse a hostile situation. Rational people come forward to rationally explain an inadvertant mistake was made. In a perfect world, rational people would accept and let the matter go. At least in the eyes of the rational world, America has done the correct thing.

For our part, no further mention should be required.

By: Jughead on 2/27/12 at 12:55

Obama just apologized for AIDs in Africa. Then, he apologized for offending pygmy goats.

By: Jughead on 2/27/12 at 12:57

pswindle: Obama apologized for inadvertent burning of a damn book. Did ANY Muslim leader apologize for 9/11? Nope--not a damn one of them.

Take your PC brainwashing and bathe with Michael Moore.

By: Jughead on 2/27/12 at 1:00

Obama just apologized for not honoring muslims at the Academy Awards. Then, he apologized for secretly becoming aroused when he sees a Barbie doll in a burqa.

By: pswindle on 2/27/12 at 1:33

Jughead, you are a jughead. How do you make up all of these lies? You believe what you, not the facts.

By: Ask01 on 2/27/12 at 1:53

We apologized for our mistake. A straightforward, to the point, admission of an unintentional slight. An honorable act of contrition I would expect any American to offer who has unwittingly slighted or otherwise offended in a foreign country. It is the proper, couteous, and respectful action to follow.

In point of fact, I believe a quick review will reveal America has owned up to mistakes, apologized and in some cases provided restitution for those errors.

From the perspective of rational people, we have followed rules of ettiquette, and acted honorably.

As far as no apology being issued for the myriad wrongs and offenses aimed toward America, I believe the overwhelming silence speaks volumes about the rationality and level of civilization of those responsible.

We should exercise restraint so as not to provide propaganda fodder for our adversaries, but at the same time, we must maintain a certain level of civilized behavior before our allies and contemporaries.

By: Jughead on 2/27/12 at 2:18

Ask01: You may believe all that BS--but Muslims still hate everyone (including themselves if they cannot find someone else to hate)---and all the "diversity" and "tolerance" won't change their minds.

Why are Americans such spineless girly-men? Apologize to people who danced in the street when innocent victims jumped to their deaths instead of being burned alive?

This country is hopeless.

By: Ask01 on 2/27/12 at 3:25

Jughead, please reread my post.

I mentioned that the fact the lack of apologies from the Muslim countries called into question their ability to think rationally, act honorably, and behave in an acceptable manner in a civilized world. They never apoligized, nor do I believe they will, such is the culture which produced them.

Try to understand. The apologies, while aimed at the angry Muslims, were actually for the benefit of our allies and those nations, while perhaps not allies, at least contemporaries, existing in different realm from the fanatical Muslims.

Think of this as a tactical move. We are setting ourselves up in the eyes of the Western World and non Muslim nations as being strong enough to admit an error, do the right thing, then move on, and not wallow in some sort of vendetta driven rage.

Spineless girly-men? I think not. To stand in front the world, with countless angry frothing at the mouth Muslim fanatics, calling for blood, and admit we unintentionally committed an act you found offensive, and we're sorry you overreacted. That takes some intestinal fortitude.