By John Hanna, Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. — Frustrated by their inability to achieve some policy goals, conservatives in Republican states are turning against moderate members of their own party, trying to drive them out of state legislatures to clear the way for reshaping government across a wide swath of mid-America controlled by the GOP.
Political groups are helping finance the efforts by supporting primary election challenges targeting several dozen moderate Republicans in the Midwest and South, especially prominent lawmakers who run key state committees.
Two years after Republicans swept into power in many state capitols, the challengers say it’s time to adopt more conservative policies.
“If you don’t believe in that playbook, then why are you on the team?” declared Greg Smith, a Kansas state representative who’s running for the state Senate, with the goal of making it more conservative.
The push is most intense in Kansas, where conservatives are attempting to replace a dozen moderate Republican senators who bucked new Gov. Sam Brownback’s move to slash state income taxes.
The Club for Growth, a major conservative interest group, is spending about $500,000 in Missouri this year. That’s double the amount it invested two years ago. The anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity opened new chapters in Iowa, Minnesota and New Mexico. The conservative business group Texans for Lawsuit Reform spent $3.5 million on legislative candidates in the first half of 2012, more than double its total during the same period two years ago.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Filled with big money punches and verbal attacks, the primary for the 6th District congressional seat is looking more like a female boxing match: Black vs. Zelenik, the rematch.
Two years ago former state Sen. Diane Black defeated Lou Ann Zelenik by fewer than 400 votes in a GOP primary that pitted Black’s mainstream Republican credentials against Zelenik’s tea party fervor. Black went on to win the seat east of Nashville, helping tip the Tennessee congressional delegation to 7-2 in favor of the GOP.
Now the two Republicans face off again Thursday in a contentious race that’s heated up within the last month.
The latest Federal Election Commission records show Black raised about $1.6 million and has roughly $360,000 on hand, where Zelenik has raised about $320,000, with close to $120,000 in ready to spend cash.
But at least two political action committees have surfaced recently and are generating thousands of dollars to take out negative ads against Black. Last week, Zelenik received endorsements from three state Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two dozen Republican incumbents face challengers in legislative primaries, but party leaders say those bids signal enthusiasm — not dissatisfaction — with the way the GOP has run the Statehouse.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga called it a “a sign of a healthy system to have primary opponents,” even though the caucus has to raise more money to defend incumbents.
“Having opponents makes you a better legislator, so I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from running,” he said in a phone interview on Friday.
McCormick also noted that more Republicans want to become lawmakers given the party’s firm control in both chambers of the General Assembly.
“It’s much more desirable to run for one of these seats when you’re in the majority than when you’re in the minority and don’t have much influence,” he said.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
ATHENS, Tenn. — A smiling cardboard cutout of Scottie Mayfield gives visitors a chance to pose with the longtime pitchman for the dairy founded by and named after his family. If only campaigning for Congress were so easy.
Mayfield and Weston Wamp, the 25-year-old son of a former incumbent, are challenging freshman Rep. Chuck Fleischmann for the Republican nomination in the state’s 3rd District. All three candidates have amassed sizable campaign accounts, setting up what is expected to be a heavy ad campaign in the Chattanooga and Knoxville television markets.
Mayfield’s strategy depends heavily on his name and face recognition built over decades as the bow-tied company spokesman in print and TV ads. His campaign signs use a brown and yellow color scheme similar to the branding on the milk and ice cream products labeled “Mayfield” that 3rd District voters are used to seeing in their refrigerators.
But Mayfield’s feel-good bid took a hit when his 33-year-old son was charged in April with slashing the tire of Fleischmann staffer following a campaign bus. Mayfield apologized, but the embarrassment was enhanced when the Chattanooga Times Free Press revealed that the Kingston police chief moved the younger Mayfield’s scheduled court date from May to after the Aug. 2 primary.
Meanwhile, Mayfield has struggled to explain why voters should choose him over Fleischmann, with whom he shares many policy positions.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers edged closer Sunday to adjourning several weeks earlier than usual, but they continued to engage in end-of-session wrangling as intense as ever.
Budget disagreements between the two chambers led to the first conference committee on the spending plan since the acrimonious debate over the income tax more than a decade ago.
The Republican majorities in both the House and Senate have reached an agreement on the budget, but several contentious matters could still crop up before the 107th General Assembly concludes its business.
They include the much-debated guns-in-parking-lots bill and a measure would prevent private universities from setting guidelines for student organizations such as religious groups. Lawmakers hope to conclude the legislative session on Monday.
By Erik Schelzig, Lucas Johnson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers are preparing for what they hope is the last week of the 107th General Assembly, though issues that still need to be worked out include the state’s annual spending plan, proposals to change the way the state selects Supreme Court justices and a resilient effort to ban teaching about gay issues in schools.
Also still pending is a dispute between business groups and gun advocates over a bill seeking to guarantee that employees have a right to store firearms their cars while at work.
Republican leaders nevertheless express confidence that the session can draw to a close by the end of the week.
“There are about 60 or 70 bills that are still there,” said Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. “I think we’re right on course to adjourn.”
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At least 10 former state lawmakers are trying to return to the Tennessee General Assembly, while eight Democratic incumbents will be vying for four seats following this year’s redistricting process.
Just before the candidate filing deadline passed Thursday, state Rep. Gary Moore of Nashville announced on the House floor that he won’t seek re-election. He’s the 11th Democratic incumbent to announce they won’t return next year.
The GOP-led redistricting process and political trends in Tennessee are giving Republicans confidence they will expand their large majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly this year. But party leaders said they don’t want to lapse into complacency.
“They’ve fielded a lot of candidates, and I would warn everyone to take their complaints very seriously and take their opponents very seriously,” said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. “Because the seats belong to the people and not to the incumbents, and I think they’ve shown before that they’ll kick us out if we don’t do the kind of work we need to do.”
Former Democratic Reps. Mark Maddox of Dresden, Jim Hackworth of Oak Ridge and Eddie Yokley of Greeneville are seeking to return to the House after losing in a Republican landslide of 2010. Former Democratic Rep. Ty Cobb of Columbia is running for the Senate.
Also looking to return are Republican Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet, who gave up her House seat for an unsuccessful Senate bid in 2010, and Mike Williams of Maynardville, who lost his Senate re-election bid in 2008.
By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– Nearly half of those voting in Tennessee’s Republican presidential primary on Tuesday said the economy was their top concern, with another third citing the deficit and more than nine in 10 saying gas prices were a factor in how they voted.
David Morgan, a 55-year-old salesman voting in Nashville listed his top concerns as “the economy and jobs and now the gas prices.”
“The whole economy is down,” he said. “Myself, I don’t make as much as I used to.”
Morgan said he voted for Mitt Romney because “I feel like he is the one that can beat Obama.”
About a third of Republican voters said the candidate quality that mattered most to them was beating President Barack Obama, according to preliminary results from an exit poll conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press. Smaller percentages were most concerned about their candidate’s moral character, experience or conservative credentials.
About seven in 10 Tennessee voters identified themselves as born-again Christians, more than in any state voting previously. About three-quarters said it mattered at least somewhat that a candidate shared their religious beliefs.
Mary Cecil, a retiree voting in Sevierville, said she voted for Rick Santorum on Tuesday. Although the economy was a concern, she said the deciding factor was: “I would like to have a true Christian in the White House.”
About nine in 10 voters said they had a negative view of the way the federal government is working, with about four in 10 saying they were “angry” about it. Almost two-thirds backed the tea party movement.
Results from the Tennessee exit poll are based on interviews with 1,769 Republican primary voters, including 640 absentee or early voters who were interviewed by phone before election day. Election day voters come from a random sample of 30 polling places. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The top two contenders for the Republican presidential nomination are accusing each other of benefiting from the support of crossover Democratic voters in states that allow anyone to participate in a party primary.
And both are correct. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have each worked to woo independent voters and conservative Democrats during campaign appearances. While it may be anathema to their hard-core GOP supporters, it’s an acknowledgement of the kind of crossover appeal that any GOP nominee will need in November if he’s to defeat President Barack Obama.
It also creates a tricky rhetorical tightrope for the candidates: making a pitch to non-Republican voters while finding fault when an opponent does the same thing.
When Santorum made the Michigan primary a squeaker this week, for example, Romney attributed his rival’s strong second-place finish to help from liberals who hoped Santorum would make a weaker opponent for Obama.
“They got the news from everyone from Michael Moore to Barack Obama’s team to, frankly, Rick Santorum as well, saying, ‘Go play mischief in the Republican Party. Vote against Mitt Romney and try to give this to Rick Santorum.’ You know, they don’t want to face me in the fall. They’d rather face Rick Santorum,” Romney said in a recent interview. “They came in, in large numbers, and voted for Rick.”
Santorum did get a boost from Democrats; 13 percent of his votes came from them, according to exit polls, compared with 4 percent for Romney.
We’re still a couple of weeks away from year’s end, but the cycle of media re-reporting what happened during the year is underway.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Here are the top Tennessee news stories of 2011 as chosen by The Associated Press staff:
1. 37 die in April tornadoes.
2. Pat Summitt diagnosed with early onset dementia.
3. Lawmakers repeal teachers’ collective bargaining rights amid union, tea party protests.
4. (Tie) Occupy Nashville protesters gather at Capitol; win court battle to keep going.
4. (Tie) Mississippi River floods parts of Memphis, West Tennessee.
6. Bruce Pearl fired as Tennessee basketball coach.
7. Woman who spent 26 years on death row is released.
8. Former Gov. Ned McWherter dies.
9. Legislators approve photo ID for voting.
10. General Motors announces plans to restart assembly work at Spring Hill plant.
Note: The story accompanying the list, written by Joe Edwards, is below.