By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart lost her state House primary Thursday to a retired Air Force officer backed by the National Rifle Association.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting Thursday night, Lt. Col. Courtney Rogers had 3,392 votes, or 58 percent, compared with Maggart’s 2,421 votes, or 42 percent.
In the two dozen races where GOP state lawmakers were facing challenges, at least four incumbents were defeated.
Five incumbent lawmakers — four Republicans and one Democrat — were in races too close to call. (Note: Final unofficial returns show seven Republican incumbents and five Democratic incumbents losing. See further parenthetical note below.)
Maggart’s race in Sumner County was the most closely watched because of her GOP leadership position and the NRA’s involvement against a member of a party it usually backs.
Outraged that Maggart didn’t push through legislation in the last House session to allow workers to store guns in vehicles parked on company lots regardless of their employers’ wishes, the NRA endorsed Rogers and paid for ads and a billboard that pictured her with President Barack Obama, an unpopular figure in Tennessee.
In its endorsement of Rogers, the NRA accused Maggart of “procedural maneuvering behind closed doors” to defeat the bill opposed by the business lobby.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey were among the prominent Republicans who campaigned and raised money for Maggart, arguing that she was unfairly targeted by the NRA.
Maggart said in conceding defeat that she was proud to be the first woman who was chair of the majority caucus and stressed her conservative accomplishments, including being the architect of legislation that stripped teachers of their collective bargaining rights.
“I am so proud of the work we have accomplished together; from cracking down on sex offenders, to ensuring ballot integrity by requiring a photo ID to vote, to cutting taxes and balancing the budget, to supporting the pro life movement,” she said in a written statement.
Rogers did not immediately return a call to The Associated Press seeking comment.
Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said District 45 race was the most contentious of the races.
“You would think that Maggart has sufficient conservative credentials, that she shouldn’t be in trouble,” he said before the polls closed.
Willie Ledbetter, a 78-year-old Hendersonville woman who identified herself as a member of the tea party, said earlier Thursday that she voted against Maggart, but not because of her stance on the guns in parking lots legislation.
“I didn’t hold that against her,” said Ledbetter, adding that she believes Maggart has been mischaracterized by gun advocates.
Rebecca Shrum, a retired Hendersonville nurse who supports gun rights, said she’s sticking with Maggart.
“I used to be a member of the NRA and for a lot of reasons I quit,” she said.
In another closely watched House race former Rep. Susan Lynn of Lebanon defeated freshman Rep Linda Elam of Mt. Juliet. Lynn gave up the seat two years ago to mount an unsuccessful challenge to state Sen. Mae Beavers.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Lynn had 4,719 votes, or 68 percent, to Elam’s 2,259 votes, or 32 percent.
Rep. Julia Hurley lost to Kent Calfee in the District 32 GOP primary. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Caffee had 4,609 votes, or 55 percent, to Hurley’s 3,704, or 45 percent.
Hurley blamed her loss on what she called “Democratic crossover.”
“I’m not complaining,” she said. “I’m not going to point fingers and say somebody didn’t do enough work. I will say absolutely the Democrats voted hot and heavy in the Republican primary. They came out to vote. They worked hard for it.”
Other incumbents who fell in races with all precincts reporting were:
— Rep. Dale Ford in District 6. James Van Huss had 3,154 votes or 54 percent, to Ford’s 2,703 or 46 percent.
— Rep. Don Miller in District 10. Tilman Goins had 2,586 votes or 52 percent, to Miller’s 2,358 or 48 percent.
House incumbents in races too close to call were:
— Republican Tony Shipley, ahead by 11 votes over Ben Mallicote in District 2. (Note: Shipley won 3,405 to 3,394, according to final unofficial returns)
— Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, trailing Dale Carr by 78 votes in District 12. (Note: Carr won, 3,535 to 3,457, again according to final unofficial returns.)
— Republican Vance Dennis, who had a five-vote lead over Shirley Curry in District 71. (Dennis 3,243 to 3,238 by final unofficial returns.).
— Republican Jim Cobb, trailing Ron Travis by 105 votes in District 31. (Travis 4,357 to 4,252 for Cobb, final unofficial.)
— Democrat Mary Pruitt, behind Harold Love by 41 votes in District 58. (Pruitt lost with 1,273 votes to Love’s 1,314, according to final unofficial returns.)
Freshman Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville defeated Scott Hughes of Seymour. Hughes, who works as chief financial officer for a Knoxville church, had questioned Overbey’s conservative credentials.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Overbey had 11,328 votes, or 61 percent, compared with Hughes’ 7,258, or 39 percent.
Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville said she’s sorry for the incumbents who lost, but optimistic about those who won.
“I had some incumbents that lost tonight,” she said. “I feel for those people. I think they all served their districts well. But I look forward to meeting new members and moving forward.”
As for the Democrats, the party ran 47 challengers and incumbents. Several of those races, however, had incumbents facing each other because of redistricting.
There were three such races in Memphis: state Reps. John Deberry and Jeanne Richardson; G.A. Hardaway and Mike Kernell; and Sens. Jim Kyle and Beverly Marrero. Deberry, Hardaway and Kyle won.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Deberry had 4,081 votes, or 60 percent, compared with Richardson’s 2,123 or 31 percent. Hardaway had 2,922, or 61 percent, compared to Kernell’s 1,875 or 39 percent.
In the Senate race, Kyle had had 7,361 votes, or 55 percent, compared to Marrero’s 5,931 or 45 percent.
In Chattanooga, Reps. Tommie Brown lost to Rep. JoAnne Favors.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Favors had 3,957 votes, or 72 percent, compared with Brown’s 1,514, or 28 percent.
Homemaker Stacy Jones, 32, said she valued Brown’s experience.
“She has a lot of wisdom and she’s a trustworthy woman,” Jones said. “When you’ve got more years, more experience, that’s a better choice to go with.”
Forty feet away, Willie Bell Ratliff disagreed. The retired substitute teacher said Brown’s experience was over-rated and called Favors a “nice, intelligent, classy young lady” who’s needed in the community.
“She’s a receptive person,” Ratliff said. “She’s been a nurse for a long while. She can use those skills on legislation for health and Medicaid issues. We need that in this community.”
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said the incumbent wins were bittersweet.
“While we are excited about our slate of candidates going into November, we are saddened to lose some great leaders from our legislature as a result of the partisan Republican redistricting,” he said. “We are grateful for their service to the state and the Democratic Party, and look forward to working with them in many other ways going forward.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh posted on Twitter that results in the GOP legislative primaries may cause Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to “need a little help next session.”
“I’ll keep my phone handy,” said the Ripley Democrat.
Some incumbents are having an easier election year, with 14 House Republican, eight House Democrats and two Republican senators drawing no opposition this year. There were 37 incumbents who were uncontested in the primary but will have a contested race in November.
There were five other legislative primaries for non-incumbents where roughly a hundred votes or less divided the top finishers.