By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Buoyed by overflowing campaign accounts, redrawn legislative districts and an unpopular Democratic president at the top of the ticket, Tennessee Republicans are expecting to add to their already considerable advantage in the state House on Tuesday.
While seven Republican incumbents were defeated in the August primaries, there is little reason to expect any spillover into the general election. Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday predicted “a good night for Republicans,” with the GOP picking up supermajorities in both chambers.
The two-thirds majority would give Republicans the ability to overcome any procedural challenges by Democrats, and prevent the minority from being able to halt legislative proceedings by walking out.
“We’ve worked hard to get there both in terms of getting the right people to run, and getting financing set up,” Haslam said.
Republican candidates are unopposed in two newly-drawn districts in Williamson, Hamilton and Knox counties, and the GOP is confident of easily winning the West Tennessee seat held by Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, the Covington Democrat who was House speaker for a record 18 years.
Democrats are hoping to fend off GOP inroads into Nashville, where they are in tight races to hold on to two seats vacated by retiring Reps. Gary Moore and Janis Sontany. They also are trying to recapture the seat currently held by Republican Rep. Jim Gotto.
The few races Republicans have had to play defense in this year include the seats of Reps. David Hawk of Greeneville and John Ragan of Oak Ridge.
Hawk, who won a crowded primary in August despite being charged with domestic violence in March, faces former Democratic Rep. Eddie Yokley of Greeneville.
Ragan, meanwhile, faces former Democratic Rep. Jim Hackworth of Clinton in a rematch of the 2010 race.
Republicans have heavily outspent Democrats this year, with the committee controlled by the state GOP bankrolling a steady diet of campaign mailers claiming close links between various Democrats legislative candidates with President Barack Obama. The state GOP spent nearly $1.3 million last month either in support of their own legislative candidates or attacking Democrats.
Democrats, meanwhile, spent about $500,000 on legislative races during the same timeframe.
Republicans in 2010 picked up 14 seats to give them a 64-34 advantage over Democrats in the 99-member chamber. Senate Republicans go into Tuesday’s vote with a 20-13 majority.
Josh Thomas, the House Republicans’ campaign director, said he sees the recent Republican successes as part of a longer-term trend.
“This has been a generational change in Tennessee that culminated in the pickups of the Senate and House in the last couple cycles,” he said. “And we will carry the ball further down the field this year.”
Democrats in 2008 lost control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in 140 years.