NASHVILLE — Incumbent state lawmakers in Southeast Tennessee hold a big money advantage over challengers in both primary and November general election contests, state filings show.
As of June 30, six House Republicans in and around Hamilton County had about a 3-to-1 money advantage over challengers in the second quarter, and a huge 20-to-1 leg up over primary or general election opponents, according to candidates' reports to the state Registry of Election Finance.
The fundraising percentages would have been even more lopsided except for a lively Republican primary in the 31st Legislative District where Ron Travis, a Dayton businessman, raised $28,398 in his challenge to Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City.
Cobb reported raising $2,625 in the second quarter, but because of previous fundraising he had far more cash on hand than Travis. Cobb reported spending $30,709 but still had $34,232 on hand as of June 30.
Travis reported spending $25,712.85 and had a balance of $5,451 at the end of the reporting period. He said he feels "very good" about what he's accomplished.
"I really didn't think I would have come close to that when the race started," Travis said. He said support has been "huge" and added, "People have just bought into the campaign. People are looking for change."
Efforts to reach Cobb on Saturday were unsuccessful, but the lawmaker recently said he feels good about the contest and has been working hard. No Democrat is running in the district, which was significantly redrawn during legislative redistricting this year.
Most GOP primary challengers and Democratic candidates have raised little to no money.
Common Cause Tennessee Chairman Dick Williams said that's not too surprising.
"It's kind of always been the case that for incumbents, people funding campaigns like to hedge their bets, I guess," Williams said. "Incumbents have always had pretty strong winning streaks."
The rise of Republican power in the state House has generated "more interest" and prompted more intra-party challenges, Williams said.
Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, faces Basil Marceaux Sr. in the House District 27 GOP primary.
A perennial candidate, Marceaux's 2010 gubernatorial bid and his unconventional views in areas ranging from traffic stops (he thinks they're illegal) to banning gold fringes on American flags sent national political satirists and liberal bloggers into a collective swoon.
Marceaux, who likes to refer to himself as Basil Marceaux Dot Com, reported raising nothing in his latest outing. Floyd raised $2,800, spent $990 and had $22,192 in cash on June. 30.
The Democratic candidate is Frank Eaton, who reported raising $1,100 between April 1 and June 30.
In Cleveland, Tenn., Baptist pastor Jack Epperson is challenging Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, in the Republican primary for House District 22. Epperson loaned his campaign $5,622 and spent the same as of June 30, his filing shows.
Brooks, the assistant House majority leader, reported $47,075 in contributions, expenditures of $12,828 and an ending balance of $49,135. No Democrat is running in the heavily Republican district.
Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, faces David Kimbro in the House District 22 GOP primary. Watson raised $20,529, spent $23,564 and had a cash balance of $65,603. Kimbro raised and spent nothing and reported a zero balance.
In House District 30, Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, has no GOP challenger but three candidates are vying to take him on in November. Dean reported raising $6,000 but already had $35,609. He spent $3,284.56 and had $38,324.90 in cash on hand.
Democratic hopefuls Brock Bennington, Sandy Norris Smith and Brian D. White did not file reports electronically with the state. Bennington and Smith said they mailed their reports.
Reached on his cell phone, Bennington said he didn't have his documents with him but estimated he raised $2,200. Smith said she had not raised anything.
Both said donors are reluctant to give because it is a multicandidate primary. But Bennington said he expects a significant endorsement and a major contribution soon.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, has no GOP opponent in the District 26 primary but will face Democrat Larry Miller in the fall.
McCormick had $35,815 coming into the second quarter. He had $17,350 in contributions and expenditures of $37,498.
A good deal of the money went to Republican candidates across the state. Some went to GOP incumbents. But in several, McCormick along with House Republican Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, are placing their bets in open GOP primaries.
McCormick said that because Republicans dominate in many districts, the GOP primary is the de facto election and he wants to see the most credible candidate win.
Miller said McCormick better get ready for the general election contest with him. He said that while he's raised less than $1,000, he expects to get strong support from traditional Democratic constituencies, including labor, in the days ahead.
The House District 28 race features two incumbent Chattanooga Democrats. Much of Rep. JoAnne Favors' District 29 was rolled into Brown's District 28 this year.
Brown reported raising nothing in the second quarter. She had $4,134 left after spending $1,790 from money raised in previous periods.
Favors reported raising $5,550 in the period. She spent $12,701 and had a cash balance of $10,778.
Republican Johnny Horne, who has lost before in the heavily Democratic 28th District, reported raising and spending nothing, leaving him with $350.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...