Hundreds seek Tennessee GOP presidential delegate seats

If you think the Republican presidential candidate field is crowded, a look at the Tennessee Division of Election’s website shows the field of Tennesseans who want to represent them as delegates to the Republican National Convention is even more so.

About 400 people — including more than a dozen state legislators — have already filed petitions seeking election as one of state’s 58 allotted delegate seats. Three party officials are automatically appointed and thus do not run. Of the remaining 55 seats, 27 are chosen at the congressional district level — three for each of the state’s congressional districts — and 28 are “at large” or statewide delegates, half appointed and half elected.

Excepting a few seeking election as uncommitted delegates, those filing for delegate slots are committed to 11 Republican candidates for president. Aspiring delegates can continue filing petitions until Dec. 10, then withdraw their petitions until Dec. 17. So the numbers may change.

But as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend began, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was the most popular presidential candidate among aspiring Tennessee delegates with 97 people signed up as candidates to represent him at the convention. Donald Trump is a close runner-up with 92 Tennesseans filing petitions to represent him.

Five state legislators have filed as delegates for Rubio. Another five want to represent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Three are running as Mike Huckabee delegates and two state senators seek Trump delegate positions.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who oversees the Division of Elections, will announce Tuesday his list of “recognized” presidential candidates who will, under state law, effectively be assured of having their names on the March 1 Tennessee presidential preference primary ballot.

Prospective candidates have until Dec. 17 to challenge Hargett’s listing — officially, it goes to the State Election Commission for approval, but a commission has never rejected a secretary’s recommendations — whereupon the list of presidential candidates will be established. Presumably, all 11 candidates with prospective pledged delegates will be on Hargett’s list.

The delegate candidates will also be on the March 1 ballot — most running by district, some for statewide “at large” delegate seats. Presumably, all 11 candidates with prospective pledged delegates will be on Hargett’s list.

Republican state legislators filing as Cruz delegates include Reps. Jason Zachary of Knoxville, Jerry Sexton of Bean Station, Dennis Powers of Jacksboro, Sheila Butt of Columbia and Judd Matheny of Tullahoma. Former state Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas, who lost to Lamar Alexander in last year’s GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, has also filed as a Cruz delegate candidate.

Republican legislators among 62 people filing as Rubio delegates include Reps. John Holsclaw of Elizabethton, Jeremy Faison of Cosby, Jeremy Durham of Franklin, and Ron Travis of Kingston; along with Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown.

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and Sen. Mae Beavers of Mount Juliet, along with their spouses, have filed as aspiring Trump delegates.

Reps. Cameron Sexton of Crossville and Barry Doss of Leoma, along with Sen. Ed Jackson of Jackson are among 42 people seeking a Huckabee delegate seats.

Perhaps noteworthy: No current legislator so far is seeking to represent former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, though several otherwise prominent Tennessee Republicans are among 67 seeking to do so. The prospective Bush delegates, for example, include former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and both the current state commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, Randy Boyd of Knoxville, and his predecessor, Bill Hagerty of Nashville — both appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam. The governor has not announced his presidential favorite, though multiple members of his family are backing Bush.

Former state Rep. Julia Hurley of Lenoir City has filed as a Bush delegate candidate.

Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has 42 Tennesseans seeking to represent him at the convention; Ben Carson 31; John Kasich 19 (including former state Rep. Steve Buttry of Knoxville); Rick Santorum 18; Carly Fiorina 15; and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie six.

Tennessee Democrats will select 76 delegates to the party’s national convention, including 44 chosen in congressional district elections and 14 running at large. The remaining 18 are split between state Democratic officeholders who are appointed, not elected. Nine of those are pledged to a specific candidate and the other nine are “super delegates” who go to the convention officially uncommitted — though the AP recently reported that all but one of Tennessee’s “super delegates” — former Vice President Al Gore Jr. — has declared support for former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The state Division of Elections has not posted a list of Democratic delegate candidates. Under party rules, prospective Democratic delegates must go through the state party headquarters. The Tennessee Democratic Party has been holding a series of nine regional meetings to provide information for potential delegate candidates, the last scheduled for Saturday in Chattanooga, leaving time to file a listing with the Division of Elections before the Dec. 10 deadline.