By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney on Saturday turned back a tea party-styled challenge to win a fourth term in charge of the state GOP.
Devaney defeated former state Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro in a 47-17 vote by the party’s executive committee meeting on the floor of the state House.
“We’re not always going to agree on every tactical issue,” Devaney told the panel after the vote. “But I think we can agree on a lot of the core principles of the Republican Party, which are traditional values, personal responsibility, free markets, individual liberty.”
Carr, who came up 9 percentage points short in his primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in August, had said he was challenging Devaney because of “division within our party.”
“For us to ignore it or to deny it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that it still exists,” Carr said. “And that division needs unity.”
Devaney in the weeks before the chairman’s vote had decried Carr’s refusal to endorse Alexander following the primary, saying it should be a disqualifying factor in the race to lead the party.
Devaney on Saturday cited the role of the party under his leadership in helping 600 Republican nominees get elected this year, ranging from candidates to state office to those standing for judge, prosecutor and local races. He added that Tennessee was one of two states where Republicans added to their supermajorities in the state Legislature.
Devaney recounted advice given to him when he was working for then-Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas that political campaigns are “the closest thing there is to war.”
“What he meant by that was that we’re in a war, a campaign, a political war — a war of ideas, a cultural war,” Devaney said. “And we’re still in that war. And right now in Tennessee we’re winning the battle.
“But nationally we’re still in that war, and that’s why I’m running for chair again,” he said. “Because I want to continue with you to fight that battle.”
Devaney was first elected to complete the unexpired term of Robin Smith after she left to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2009. Devaney was elected to his first full term as chairman the following year. He previously worked as the party’s executive director and as a staffer for former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee.
Devaney wasn’t the only Republican leader in Tennessee to face a tea party challenge. House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, herself a former state GOP chairwoman, on Tuesday faces Rep. Rick Womick of Murfreesboro in the Republican caucus vote for the chamber’s top leadership post.