By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Embattled Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester has decided not to seek a third term in charge of the state party, a spokesman confirmed Thursday.
The decision opens the door to new leadership for the party that has in recent years suffered deep losses in the Statehouse and the state’s congressional delegation. There has been little sign that Democrats will be able to reverse that trend in November.
Forrester was elected chairman amid a wave of discontent over the 2008 elections in which Democrats lost control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in 140 years.
But Forrester fared no better, overseeing the even more disastrous elections in 2010 that saw Democrats lose 14 seats in the state House and three in Congress, while also dropping governor’s race in a landslide.
Democrats are on the defense again this year, with Republicans aiming for supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. The only Republican congressman who faces a serious challenge is Rep. Scott DesJarlais, but only because of the emergence of a transcript of a phone conversation in which he once urged a mistress who had also been under his care as a doctor to seek an abortion.
The Democrats experienced a new low this year when a part-time floor installer named Mark Clayton won their party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate. The day after the vote, the party declared it was disavowing Clayton because of his role in an anti-gay group. A Washington Post story this week suggested that Clayton “may be America’s worst candidate.”
Forrester cultivated strong support among the Democratic executive committee and from the more liberal wing of the party. But he was strongly opposed from the start by elected Democrats like then-Gov. Phil Bredesen and four of the five Democratic congressmen then in office.
The Associated Press earlier this year obtained a confidential analysis commissioned by the party that indicated Democrats have a long way to go before they can justify holding any optimism about future success.
The outside study based on interviews with close to 100 current and former Democratic leaders in the state identified a “deep and longstanding lack of trust and mutual respect among the most significant Democratic stakeholders.” It said a key weaknesses included the lack of a “recognized head of the party.”
Forrester’s salary was initially set at $95,000 in 2009, $20,000 less than his predecessor earned. The next year he welcomed the creation of a $25,000 win bonus system for himself and the party’s executive director as a way to “put some skin in the game.”
He never got that bonus because of the heavy losses of 2010, but the party’s executive committee earlier this year voted to raise his pay to $125,000. Supporters said the 33 percent pay hike recognized Forrester’s work to modernizing the party’s voter data system and promoting the political involvement of groups like Latinos.