A losing candidate for Tennessee’s Democratic U.S. Senate nomination launched an effort Monday to have the election of the winner, Mark Clayton, thrown out because he is a member of a “hate group.”
Larry Crim, who finished fourth in Thursday’s seven-candidate field, met with State Election Coordinator Mark Goins Monday, then delivered letters to the state Democratic Party headquarters asking that Clayton be rejected and that a new primary election be conducted no later than Oct. 9.
Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Sean Braisted said attorneys were reviewing the letter and wanted to research legal issues involved. The letter from Crim’s lawyer s a demands a reply by 3 p.m. Tuesday. (Note: Letter from Crim HERE; letter from Crim’s lawyer HERE.)
The party issued a statement Friday disavowing Clayton’s candidacy, saying he is “associated with a known hate group in Washington, D.C.” Clayton is vice president of Public Advocate of the United States, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as “a hate group” – a depiction disputed by Clayton and by the group.
State Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester said Friday that the party is simply asking voters to write-in a candidate of their choice in November’s election rather than vote for Clayton.
“That’s not a remedy at all – not for the candidates, not for the voters and not for the party,” said Crim.
Tennessee law gives political parties control over party primaries and requires that a complaint be filed with the party to challenge an election that has already held, said Blake Fontenay, spokesman for Goins. Crim’s letters are intended to meet that threshold.
But both Goins and Democratic party lawyers are researching how the law would apply in the present situation, spokesmen said Monday. Fontenay said a candidate’s win cannot be “arbitrarily” voided and Goins is research “what sort of standard has to be met.”
“Coordinator Goins and his staff are researching issues related to Mr. Crim’s request for a new election. At some point this week, hopefully as early as Tuesday, we hope to provide more information about what we believe the options are moving forward,” Fontenay added in an email.
Clayton, who lives in the Nashville suburb of White’s Creek and works as a flooring installer, was not available for comment on Crim’s move. On his Facebook page, Clayton has described himself as “tea party style conservative activist.”
A letter Clayton distributed to state legislators earlier this year supported a so-called “don’t say gay” bill that would prohibit discussion of homosexuality in school grades kindergarten through eight.
The Public Advocate’s anti-gay views were cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center in classifying the organization as a hate group. Public Advocate, meanwhile, charged that the center had been “bought off by massive homosexual fundraising.”
Clayton has also declared he will “fight to remove secret national ID cards from Tennessee drivers’ licenses” and worth to shut down the Transportation Security Agency.
The Democratic party says Clayton has never voted in a Democratic primary except when he was a candidate in that primary. Clayton previously sought the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in 2008, He finished fourth in that year 32,309 votes, when the primary was won by former state Democratic Chairman Bob Tuke, who ten lost in November to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.
This year, Clayton got 48,126 votes, according to unofficial returns. Runnerup was Gary Gene Davis with 24,789 with actress Park Overall third with 24,263. Crim had 17,383.
Forrester attributed Clayton’s win to his name being at the top of the list of candidates on the ballot, which are arranged alphabetically, in a contest that had received little attention from the media or voters. If a new election were held without Clayton’s name, Crime would be at the top of the list alphabetically.
Clayton carried 61 counties and Overall carried 16 – all but one in her native East Tennessee. The rest were won by Davis except for Hancock County, where another candidate, David Hancock, topped the handful of votes in the Democcratic primary.
Overall said she has no plan to challenge the election of Clayton and thought the idea of a new election “crazy” – though she was deeply disturbed by Clayton’s win
“I’m upset, not to have lost, but that Tennessee got embarrassed this way,” said Overall, a self-described liberal who support same-sex marriage and declared respect for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s judgment of Clayton, who she never met.
The Federal Election Commission website shows Clayton reporting no spending by his campaign as of July 13. Crim reported spending about $16,000 at that point; Overall $30 – though she said about $5,000 was spend subsequently by election day. Corker reported spending of about $6.3 million.
If a special election were scheduled, the Democratic party would apparently have to cover the costs. Parties schedule primaries normally to coincide with local general elections, so the state covers the cost.
In an interview Friday on supporting its nominees to seats in the state Legislature, Forrester said party would be selective in financial backing because of “limited resources.