By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mark Clayton’s biggest strength as the candidate
who won the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Bob
Corker next month might be that he’s an optimist.
Despite being disavowed by the Democratic Party for his role in an
anti-gay hate group and not raising enough money to meet the Federal
Election Commission’s reporting limit of $5,000, Clayton insists he has
a real chance of defeating Corker, whose recent FEC figures show he has
raised $11.5 million and has more than $6 million on hand.
When asked why he’s optimistic, Clayton recently told The Associated
Press: “Money does not necessarily mean votes.”
“We are definitely going to be in the game,” he said. “We are going to
get out to enough voters to be competitive with Bob Corker.”
Wishful thinking? The little-known candidate points to a slightly
successful political track record.
In 2008, he ran for the Senate as a Democrat and collected just more
than 32,000 votes, finishing fourth. In August, Clayton reported raising
no money and campaigned little yet received more than 48,000 votes,
twice the number of his nearest competitor in the seven-candidate
Democratic primary. That same month, a federal judge sided with Clayton
in a lawsuit brought by another Democratic candidate who sought to
remove Clayton from the November ballot.
The Tennessee Democratic Party refuses to acknowledge Clayton because he
is vice president of Falls Church, Va.-based Public Advocate of the
United States, which calls itself a conservative advocacy group. The
Southern Poverty Law Center calls the organization an anti-gay hate group.
The party at the time acknowledged in a statement that many Democrats
knew nothing about any of the candidates and suggested that Clayton won
simply because his name appeared first on the ballot.
Even Clayton’s Senate opponent acknowledged he doesn’t know much about
“I’ve never really met my opponent, nor know much about his background,
or what he’s been doing,” Corker said. “I’m sure he’s a fine person.”
Party Chairman Chip Forrester recently reiterated the party’s stance.
“We’re not supporting him in any way, and I’ve asked people just to
write-in their favorite candidate on Nov. 6,” Forrester said. “We’re
focusing now on electing real Democrats.”
Clayton said he’s paying more attention to voters than party officials.
“We are in this situation because the people put Mark Clayton in this
spot,” he said. “I didn’t do this single-handedly.”
The 35-year-old said that when he’s not installing floors or working for
a moving company, he’s out trying to connect with voters. He said he can
better relate to them than his opponent, a multimillionaire businessman
he claims is out of touch with everyday citizens.
“I can’t imagine that there are many folks serving in the United States
Senate that have spent more time with the citizens of their state than I
have,” Corker said. “I have probably relished that more than most
anything else I do in the Senate, and that is talking with citizens here
in our state about where we are as a nation and hearing what their
The former Chattanooga mayor was first elected to the Senate in 2006 and
was the only new Republican to enter the chamber that election. The
current campaign is a breeze for Corker compared to his first, when he
had to loan his campaign $2 million in the final week of the race to
eventually capture 51 percent of the vote and edge former U.S. Rep.
Harold Ford Jr.
Since he’s been in office, Corker has focused much of his attention on
fiscal and foreign issues. Earlier this year, he joined a Democratic
U.S. senator in proposing a resolution that pressured President Barack
Obama to seek congressional consent for continued U.S. military
involvement in Libya and required the administration to provide a
detailed justification for the decision to go to war.
Corker, 60, also said he’s developed a plan to reform taxes and balance
the federal budget, but he’s not planning to release details until after
If re-elected, he said addressing the nation’s financial situation will
be high on his agenda.
“I think the biggest issue our nation faces right now is our fiscal
issues,” he said. “Everything else really pales … to that.”
Clayton said before the election his top issue was personal privacy,
noting the so-called fusion centers that analyze data about people in
efforts to spot terrorism trends. He said he considers the centers
examples of how people are being “over-identified by the government and
Two other candidates will be on the ballot for the Senate seat: Martin
Pleasant of the Green Party and Kermit Steck of the Constitution Party.