TNGOP had attack ad in Nashville mayor’s race

The Tennessee Republican Party, which had earlier avoided involvement in Nashville’s recent mayoral race, has acknowledged sponsoring attack advertising in the last days of the campaign and blames the Tennessee Democratic Party for its decision.

The acknowledgment of an attack on Megan Barry, the winner, along with the previously disclosed Democratic attack on David Fox, the loser, apparently marks the first time the Tennessee parties have directly clashed in spending state-level advertising money in a local-level race.

Though all municipal elections are officially nonpartisan under state law, many contests have candidates widely known by party affiliation. In the Nashville mayor’s race, former Metro Council member Barry was known as the Democrat; former hedge fund manager and school board member Fox as the Republican.

The Democratic Party sponsored a direct mail piece that targeted black voters, declaring Fox a “partisan Republican” who could return Nashville schools to the era of segregation, citing a school board vote dealing with student assignment to schools. It said the “David Fox plan” would have “rolled back decades of racial progress and doomed the city’s poor black children to a substandard education in segregated schools.” The party sponsored a radio ad along the same lines.

The Republican Party direct mail piece denounced Barry for a “radical social agenda” that is part of the “Obama way” and apparently targeted voters identified as staunch Republicans. It says Barry “loaded debt onto our children,” referring to increased bond debt incurred by Nashville during Barry’s term on the Metro Council, and voted for a property tax increase.

“Instead of doing the job she was elected to do, she has been more focused on forcing a radical agenda on our community,” said the ad, sent to the News Sentinel last week after a column mentioned that the state Republican Party had not disclosed any spending in the Nashville race despite its statewide “Red to the Roots” campaign designed to elect more Republicans to local office.

State Republican Chairman Ryan Haynes said in an email that the party “got involved in the last week of the election because our consciences couldn’t allow us to sit on the sideline when the TNDP used a vile, disgusting attack that did nothing but divide Nashville along racial lines. … By following the Obama-Clinton playbook of division, what once was a proud party in Tennessee has been turned into a shell of its former self.”

Beyond saying it was a “limited expenditure,” the party’s executive director, Brent Leatherwood, declined to say how much was spent on the anti-Barry effort. Asked if there was any other TNGOP spending related to the race, he said there was “some message-testing on a specific group of conservative voters” that may be “very valuable” in future party efforts to motivate voters in Nashville.

The Democratic Party has not voluntarily disclosed the amount of its Nashville spending either. The next public disclosure of spending by the parties is due for filing with the Registry of Election Finance on Oct. 12.