Todd Gardenhire became the first Republican in four decades to win Tennessee's 10th state Senate district, soundly dispatching Democrat and Chattanooga City Councilman Andraé McGary by eight percentage points.
Gardenhire, 64, won a four-year term that pays $19,000 annually. He'll succeed Sen. Andy Berke, a prominent Democrat, and become a freshman member of a Republican Senate that will begin January's new session with a filibuster-proof "supermajority."
"I knew I would prevail," Gardenhire said Tuesday night at Hamilton County GOP headquarters in Chattanooga. "In my campaign ad, I said I'd be myself. And I'm a conservative individual, but that doesn't mean I'm not compassionate."
Gardenhire is the first Republican to win District 10 since Chattanooga attorney Dan Oehmig captured re-election in 1972, four years before Democrats started a hot streak that snapped Tuesday night.
But Gardenhire won a district that would be foreign to his predecessors,
Controlled by Republicans for the first time in Tennessee history, redistricting this year targeted Berke and other top Democrats. In District 10, conservative cartographers lopped off traditionally Democratic-leaning Marion County and shifted the district eastward through Republican areas, adding East Ridge, a sizable chunk of Bradley County and Gardenhire's home of East Brainerd.
McGary won Hamilton County, capturing Chattanooga's liberal hamlets. But Gardenhire offset those with a 4-to-1 margin of victory in dead-red Bradley County.
A longtime Republican activist, Gardenhire campaigned as a pro-business conservative and touted endorsements from the National Rifle Association and Tennessee Right to Life. His chief legislative goal is establishing a technical school in Hamilton County.
"The issues near and dear to my heart aren't partisan," Gardenhire said.
McGary, 33, downplayed his status as the Democratic nominee, promoting himself as a middle-class champion with an independent streak. The youngest man ever elected to the City Council has said he won't run for re-election in the downtown district he won as a 29-year-old.
All vote totals, which include federally mandated provisional ballots, are unofficial until certified by the Tennessee Division of Elections.
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6610.
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...