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VOL. 129 | NO. 152 | Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Haslam, Alexander Look to Boost Republican Turnout

By Bill Dries

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U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher remembers the first time that he talked with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Fincher had been elected to Congress long enough to have made several votes after a 2008 campaign in which he touted his conservative values and stances. And in the process, Fincher admitted to Alexander that he had been critical of Alexander’s voting record during the campaign.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam campaigns in Bartlett Monday, Aug. 4, with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Haslam hopes to see a statewide Republican turnout of 750,000 Thursday.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

It was something Fincher apologized for when he and Alexander first talked face to face.

“I said, ‘After I was elected, people criticized me, just like I criticized you. So, I’m sorry,’” Fincher recalled Monday, Aug. 4, during a Republican rally in Bartlett that featured Alexander and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. “Folks, we have choices to make. I can go to Washington and vote no on every bill and blame everybody, every time. But we need people that are going to govern and going to do what’s best for the state and this country.”

Haslam and Alexander have been on a statewide bus tour since last week to pump up overall Republican turnout even as they face opposition in the GOP primaries for governor and the U.S. Senate. The goal is to also boost turnout for Republican candidates in local general election races on the ballot.

Haslam said earlier in the campaign season that his effort in the primary would be geared more toward getting out the Republican vote and less concerned with his opposition in the primary.

Haslam said he would like to see Republican turnout statewide at 750,000.

“The more we’ve opened our doors, the more success we’ve had,” Haslam said of the goal.

Early voting statewide through Aug. 2 put Republicans just short of halfway there. The early voting period across the state drew 564,631 voters, with 354,000 voting in the Republican state and federal primaries and 165,000 voting in the Democratic primaries.

For 14 years, Tennessee has been a red state, starting with Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore Jr. losing Tennessee, his home state, to George W. Bush in 2000. It was also the first time in Tennessee that turnout in the Republican presidential primary was greater than in the Democratic primary.

During 2010’s lively Republican primary for governor – a race in which all three candidates, including Haslam, spent a lot of time campaigning in Memphis – 77,478 Shelby County voters participated in the Republican primary, compared with 77,536 in the Democratic primary in which Mike McWherter ran unopposed.

Four years later, the statewide primary generating the most interest in Shelby County has been the four-way Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, with Knoxville attorneys Gordon Ball and Terry Adams spending a lot of time mining the Memphis Democratic base.

And a competitive Senate primary – the one race not on the primary ballot four years ago – can boost turnout.

In 2006, Shelby County turnout in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary, won by U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis, was 93,446, compared with 90,295 in the Democratic primary for governor in which incumbent Phil Bredesen was seeking a second term.

The 2006 local turnout in the Republican U.S. Senate primary won by incumbent Sen. Bob Corker was 61,278, compared with 42,184 voters in the Republican primary for governor.

Alexander has tea party opposition in Thursday’s primary from state Rep. Joe Carr, with former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn among Alexander’s other challengers.

In the campaign’s last days, Flinn has been critical of both Carr and Alexander.

“We have an open primary. As a result of our open door, we have many candidates,” Alexander said of the opposition. “The result is that we have a larger Republican Party, a more conservative Republican Party and, thanks to Gov. Haslam and the state Legislature, a more successful Republican Party. They are actually doing something with the majority.”

While television ads in the Republican Senate primary have included attack ads, out-of-state political groups so far have not joined the fray, as they did in Mississippi’s Republican Senate primary and runoff.

“This isn’t South Carolina. This isn’t Mississippi,” Alexander said. “Tennesseans are accustomed to having conservative leaders who are willing to work with other people and get a result on serious problems.”

This year marks 40 years since Alexander won the Republican nomination for governor for the first of three times and lost in the statewide general election to Democratic nominee Ray Blanton.

“I’ve never lost a race in Shelby County. I’m not saying that to be immodest. I’m proud of it,” Alexander told the Bartlett crowd Monday. “There’s only one reason for that – because I’ve tried to represent all the citizens of Shelby County – Republicans, independents and Democrats.”

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