GOP pulls off total takeover of Tenn. Legislature/Ramsey says candidates had “right message”

GOP pulls off total takeover of Tenn. Legislature

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II • Associated Press Writer •

NASHVILLE — Tennessee produced a major election success for Republicans with the GOP taking control of both chambers of the General Assembly.

The returns from Tuesday’s election bucked the trend in other states, where down-ticket Democrats rode the wave of Barack Obama’s presidential victory. Tennessee instead voted to give Republicans control of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

The GOP tipped the balance of power by winning three contentious races in the Senate and gaining four seats in the House.

House Majority Leader Gary Odom of Nashville told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he’s talking with other House Democrats to “assess everything and determine what we’re going to do next.”

“We’re still in a little bit of shock,” Odom said. “By all accounts, it’s not anything like I thought it would be. We got to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move ahead.”

Democratic House spokesman Addison Pate said Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s strong victory in Tennessee — he carried 57 percent of the vote — created a “trickle down to the lower races.”

“I don’t think this was a vote against state leaders or state Democrats. This was a national level race influencing state races. The country went one way and we went another. It’s surprising,” Pate said.

Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington had no public comments on Tuesday night or early Wednesday, but Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said he’s “excited” about the turn of events.

“We had good candidates, we had the right message, we raised the money that was needed in a year that wasn’t exactly good nationwide,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville.

Unofficial but final results left Republicans with 19 seats in the 33-member Senate and 50 of the 99 House seats. Last session the Senate was split 16-16 with one independent while Democrats held a 53-46 majority in the House.

Republicans gained the upper hand by prevailing in several hotly contested races for open seats vacated by Democrats.

Republican Ken Yager defeated Becky Ruppe in Senate District 12, a Cumberland Plateau seat formerly held by Democrat Tommy Kilby of Wartburg. Democrats had
targeted Yager with a tough TV ad that attacked his support for tax increases while Roane County executive.

Republican state Rep. Dolores Gresham beat Randy Camp to replace longtime Democratic Sen. John Wilder in District 26 in southwest Tennessee. Democrats had pounded Gresham for voting for the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program without mentioning that her husband’s farm had received more than $36,000 from the taxpayer-funded grants.

But Camp’s former brother-in-law circulated a letter criticizing the Democrat for having affairs while married. Camp admitted adultery in his 2006 divorce proceedings.

The Senate campaign in District 4 in northeast Tennessee also was rocked by allegations of an affair against Republican challenger Mike Faulk. But unofficial totals showed Faulk, who never directly addressed the claims, knocking off Sen. Mike Williams with a 246-vote margin of victory.

Williams, who left the GOP last year to become an independent and has sometimes sided with Democrats on key votes, stopped short of conceding, saying he planned to talk with officials in the secretary of state’s office to confirm the results.

“It looks like I’ve got 246 votes short, and that’s just the way it is,” Williams said. “I’m telling people that I appreciate the opportunity and the support I got. It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve.”

The Republican gains were a major victory for Ramsey, putting him in position to be re-elected to the top Senate post when the General Assembly convenes in January.

Ramsey ally Sen. Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville lost her long-shot bid for re-election. Kurita had to run a write-in campaign after Democrats — still sore about her 2007 vote that helped Ramsey become speaker — declared her 19-vote primary victory invalid and replaced her on the ballot with attorney Tim Barnes.

In the House, the Democratic Party saw two incumbents defeated, lost four open seats and picked off only one previously held by Republicans.

Democratic incumbent Nathan Vaughn of Kingsport lost to Republican Tony Shipley in District. Republican Josh Evans defeated Rep. Bob Bibb of Springfield in District 66.

The only Republican incumbent to lose was Rep. Tom DuBois of Columbia.

Democrat Ty Cobb picked up the District 64 seat.

The Republicans taking open seats from the Democrats were Terri Lynn Weaver in District 40, Joe Carr in District 48, and Vance Dennis in District 71.

Four state Senate races and 54 House races were uncontested.

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