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GOP takes State Senate
Nov 03, 2004 12:00 am
In an unexpected turn Tuesday both parties attributed to the political coattails of President George W. Bush, Republicans won elected control of the Tennessee State Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.
The Tennessee GOP picked up the two seats needed for a narrow 17-16 majority, with Republican challenger Diane Black, a state representative, beating Sen. JoAnn Graves, the Senate's speaker pro tempore, in District 18.
In District 16 spanning Rutherford and Bedford counties, Republican challenger Jim Tracy defeated incumbent Larry Trail 52 to 48 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.
Longtime, mercurial Lt. Gov. John Wilder, a Democrat, managed to best challenger Ron Stallings by a large margin.
The Black-Graves match up in nearby Sumner County also pitted the coattails of Bush against popular Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Bredesen not only helped Graves raise money for her reelection effort, but also appeared in network television commercials throughout Middle Tennessee personally endorsing Graves.
One commercial featured a direct appeal by Bredesen to voters on Graves' behalf.
Bredesen also became directly involved with the Trail race, going door to door in Rutherford County with 6th District Congressman and Murfreesboro native Bart Gordon.
Despite winning back the governor's seat in 2002 and Bredesen's cross-over popularity with Republicans in the state for fending off a state income tax, Republican strategists and candidates said Bush's popularity out paced the governor's.
They also said there was a lingering effect in the state of the fight against a state income tax from the final years of Gov. Don Sundquist's administration resulting in higher voter awareness of state legislative issues.
"I think quite a bit is attributed to President Bush's coattails," said Jamie Clariday, an operative for the Tennessee Republican Party working in Black's campaign. "The majority of it is people now following what goes on in the General Assembly. I have been absolutely astounded by the complexity of the questions we have gotten in the last four months."
Black, who overcame a heavy fund raising disadvantage to the politically powerful Graves, said her prominent role in the income tax fights of the last four years and increasingly conservative Democrats helped her to victory.
Black managed to split typically Democratic Robertson County with Graves, the key to Graves' victory in her last reelection in 2000.
"Right from the very beginning, our campaign talked about the importance of values," Black told The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday night. "People were very in tune here with the issue of moral values. The second thing was the issue of taxes and my position on that over the years."
Black added she was looking forward to a period in Nashville where Republicans helped set the legislative agenda for a change.
"I'm a get it done kind of person, and the possibility of being part of a Republican led Senate with the chance to get some things done thrills me," Black said.
Tennessee Democrats said their losses in the face of the Bush landslide in Tennessee were acceptable, despite losing control of the State Senate for the first time in over a century.
"We held our own in some key races," Tennessee Democratic Party Spokesperson Gentry McCreary said late Tuesday night. "Bush one every one of these counties and some of the precincts by as much as 20 points. When you are facing that kind of tidal wave and do as well as we did, it was a good night for us really."