published Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Tennessee GOP spends $1.75 million in 27 days

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Republicans blazed through $1.75 million in just 27 days during October as the state party and GOP caucuses bombarded embattled Democratic state legislative candidates with direct mail and television and radio ads leading up to Tuesday's election.

In contrast, the Tennessee Democratic Party and the House and Senate Democratic caucuses spent just $617,000 -- giving the majority GOP an almost 3-to-1 spending advantage in early voting and the final stretch of the 2012 campaign.

The last report before Tuesday's election, which covers Oct. 1-27, shows the state GOP spent $1.23 million. The Senate Republican Caucus, excluding money it sent to the party, spent $356,000 while their House GOP counterparts shelled out $162,000 minus money they sent to the main party.

Tennessee Democrats spent $500,000 on legislative contests. Senate Democrats spent about $39,000 and sent about $218,000 to the state party. House Democrats spent nearly $80,000 and sent almost $100,000 to the party.

The good news for two Hamilton County Democrats running for the House and one running for the Senate is the state GOP and House and Senate Republican Caucuses are leaving them alone.

But here's the downside: that's because Republicans think 10th Senate District nominee Todd Gardenhire and incumbent Reps. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, and Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, are relatively safe and can handle the races on their own.

And Democrats aren't sending money their way either.

"We do feel good about that race," state Republican Party Executive Director Adam Nickas said of Gardenhire's contest with Democrat Andraé McGary in Senate District 10.

Nickas said he's comfortable as well with Dean's contest with Democratic challenger Sandy Smith and Floyd's race with Frank Eaton.

The Tennessee Democratic Party and Democrats' House and Senate caucuses have spent nothing on any of the Hamilton County races.

Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said, "There are candidates in Hamilton County who've reached out to us," saying the party has helped them with technical advice on operations and building fundraising networks.

"I think Frank Eaton's a good candidate, and I think he's gotten some local support," Puttbrese said.

Puttbrese said the state party is focused on the "ground game" and making contact with hundreds of thousands of voters.

Republicans are intent on building "super majorities" in the House and Senate and in the final days are pouring huge sums toward making that happen. GOP heavyweights with leadership political action committees are jumping in, too.

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey used his RAAMPAC to send $125,000 to the state GOP and still spent $197,000 on his own to help boost the current Republican majority from 20 to 26 or even 27. Democrats currently have 13 seats.

By comparison, Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle's leadership PAC spent just $5,800 and had $14,600 left on hand.

In House District 43, the state party's Tennessee Legislative Campaign Committee $36,176 in radio, television and direct mail attacks on Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, who faces Republican challenger Robert Dunham of Sparta. The district includes Grundy County.

Republicans think they can knock off Curtiss while even some Democrats are nervous. House Republicans now have a 64-34 advantage over Democrats (there's one independent). Republican Speaker Beth Harwell hopes to pick up as many as 10 new seats.

Statewide, Republicans have sent out dozens of direct mail pieces supporting their candidates and attacking Democrats.

In Nashville, the Senate Republican Caucus spent $160,000 attacking Democratic Senate candidate Phillip North, who faces Republican Steve Dickerson in an open Senate seat that had been a Democratic district.

Hamilton County contests have been relatively quiet compared to slugfests in other areas of the state.

In his last pre-election filing, Republican Gardenhire, a Chattanooga financial consultant, reported raising $34,305, spending $36,229 and still had $49,554. McGary had not filed Wednesday. The reports were due Tuesday.

Republican Floyd reported raising $3,200 and spending nothing at all in October in the GOP-leaning district. He had $17,801 on cash on hand. Eaton, his opponent, reported raising $2,180 and spending $3,148. Most went for printing and postage on a mailer. His balance was $1,867.73.

about Andy Sher...

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, ...

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