Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Republican Senate speaker, says he believes the GOP in fall elections will make big gains in its current majority in the 33-member chamber, including the Senate District 10 seat now held by Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga.
"There are six seats across the state we'll be playing in and have a legitimate shot of winning," Ramsey told reporters in his Legislative Plaza office this week. "Obviously, it'll be hard to run the table, but we'll come close."
Republicans currently have a 20-13 majority, and Ramsey said, "we're back at 20 no matter what."
Berke is not seeking re-election and is instead running for Chattanooga mayor in 2013. During this year's legislative redistricting, Republicans took out Democratic-leaning Marion County from the district. They then added Republican areas of Hamilton County and a good portion of heavily Republican Bradley County.
"You start in Chattanooga with that race over there, with Andy Berke's old seat, probably the most Republican of the six we have redrawn," Ramsey said. "I think the [GOP] primary will be the race in that seat."
Senate Republicans say the currently constituted district was won back in 2006 by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in Tennessee's last major contested statewide election. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam won it by about 60 percent.
Democrats say the seat remains winnable.
Health care entrepreneur and developer Greg Vital and financial consultant Todd Gardenhire are squaring off in the Aug. 2 GOP primary.
Quenston Coleman, a retired state probation and parole officer, Chattanooga City Councilman Andrae McGary and Hamilton County School Board member David Testerman are running in the Democratic primary.
Other Senate contests
Ramsey also thinks Republicans can win the open Senate District 16, which now includes Marion, Sequatchie, Franklin, Coffee, Van Buren and Warren counties.
Then again, Democrats figure they can win it too, and the seat could prove to be a flash point in this year's general election.
Ramsey said in the four-person GOP field, Republicans Janice Bowling, a former congressional aide and congressional candidate, and Eric Chance, a Coffee County commissioner and businessman, are "very strong." Ron Stoltzfus, a Winchester businessman and pastor, is also running as is Rod McClellan, of McMinnville, a military veteran and retiree.
Democrats are former state Sen. Jim Lewis, D-South Pittsburg; Steve Roller, D-McMinnville, an attorney; Justin Walling, who served as a field representative for former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn.; Jeff Bottoms, of McMinnville; and McMinnville Fire Department official Kevin Lawrence.
Ramsey also likes Republican prospects in Senate District 28, south of Nashville; Senate District 20 in Nashville; Senate District 22, which includes Clarksville; and Senate District 24, which includes Dresden.
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, ...