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Rochelle bypasses run for State Senate
Oct 05, 2005 12:00 am
October 5, 2005
Former state senator and state income tax proponent Robert Rochelle says he would like to return to elected office but has no plans to challenge incumbent State Sen. Mae Beavers for the state's 17th Senatorial District seat.
In a print advertisement appearing in today's Lebanon Democrat, Rochelle – who, citing health concerns, left the Senate seat in 2002 – contends a bid for State Senate "does not feel like the right fit right now."
Noting the 17th District encompasses all or part of eight counties, Rochelle said it would be difficult to maintain his legal practice and remain easily accessible to the district's residents.
"During my prior Senate service, I built a reputation of being out in the district and easily accessible to folks," Rochelle's advertisement reads. "That is a lot harder to do with eight counties and still keep a regular job."
With a hefty campaign warchest containing roughly $250,000 and strong name recognition, Rochelle was widely believed to stand as the Democratic Party's top challenger in the race for Beaver's post – a seat members of the Tennessee Democratic Party have said would be their party's No. 1 legislative target in next year's elections.
The 17th District seat is one of three Senate seats in Nashville's contiguous counties that helped swing the upper house of the legislature to a Republican majority over the past two campaign cycles.
Will Pinkston, communications director for the Tennessee Democratic Party, said Tuesday while Rochelle would have been a "formidable opponent" in the party's bid to unseat Beavers, it still has ample time to recruit another "qualified and motivated" challenger.
"Both parties are focused heavily on that seat," Pinkston said. "The Democrats are focused on it, because we believe it's an opportunity for a pickup. And the Republicans are focused on it, because it's a seat that could very easily go the other way."
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Bob Davis said he was not surprised by Rochelle's announcement, adding he feels Beavers has done an "excellent job."
"And, as we found out during last year's elections, he who has all of the money doesn't necessarily win these campaigns," Davis said in reference to Rochelle's sizable campaign coffers. "… I'm guessing that he (Rochelle) saw that it would certainly be a tough fight against a lady who has done an outstanding job representing that district. And, I don't think people have forgotten who sponsored the state income tax."
Davis' comments regarding Rochelle's support for a state income tax before his departure from Legislative Plaza echoed statements from Nashville's conservative radio personality, Steve Gill.
As Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen maintains he will not support a state income tax if elected to a second term, Gill speculated a Rochelle candidacy would have faced an uphill battle in the race against Beavers.
"How could he (Bredesen) campaign for, support or endorse Bob Rochelle? … How is Phil Bredesen going to campaign for or help them while he's trying to convince people that he's not for an income tax in his second term?" Gill asked.
Like Davis, Gill maintained any Democratic candidate would have a difficult time defeating Beavers. He said local voter's tendency to support Republican candidates continues to grow.
Still, Rochelle suggests Beavers' Senate seat is not unattainable.
"The polling we have done shows the incumbent senator to be vulnerable and that I could win," Rochelle's advertisement reads.
When contacted by The Lebanon Democrat on Tuesday, Beavers declined comment regarding Rochelle's decision, and said she was focusing her attention on "doing the best job I can for the people of the 17th District."
And while Pinkston noted it was still "a bit early" to speculate as to who the party might recruit to challenge Beavers, he said it would work to develop a strategy over the coming weeks.
"I think there's a lot of posturing happening right now between people who are looking at it and who are thinking about it," Pinkston said. "We should know a bit more in the next few weeks."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.