Thursday, May 29, 2008

Will The 1st District Ever Emerge From The Shadows?

After decades of empty-handed, self-serving Congressmen in the 1st District, I too am wondering if the seat might fall to a Democrat this fall. Randy Neal at TennViews points to some of the elements in this year's race. And as I have been saying for a while, many in the East Tennessee GOP want Rep. Davis to be a one-term federal representative. Randy points to the primary battle underway, as reported in The HIll:

Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe (R) finished fourth in 2006 with 17 percent of the vote, but has quietly become one of the few challengers in the country this year to out-raise an incumbent. He reported collecting $120,000 between January and March, compared to $80,000 for Davis, who still holds a 2-to-1 advantage in total cash.

Davis has signed up Bill Snodgrass as his campaign manager. Snodgrass served as district director for former Rep. Bill Jenkins (R), who served in the seat for five terms before retiring in 2006. Also, Keith Spicer, a co-chairman of Davis’s campaign last cycle, is now an adviser to Roe.

Davis’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said it’s generally tough to beat incumbents in the state but that Roe does have an advantage in that the district is focused on a singular media market in the Tri-Cities area of Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport.

“That’s the one district where there is largely one media market, although you might have to do Knoxville as well to hit the whole district,” Oppenheimer said. “So it’s probably an affordable district to campaign against the incumbent.”

Despite the challengers’ enthusiasm, David Wasserman, a House race analyst for the Cook Political Report, said Davis will likely have to do something wrong for the voters to kick him out.

The incumbent has had legendary staying power in the seat over the last 90 years, including being held for three decades by both Reps. B. Carroll Reece (R) and Jimmy Quillen (R) and then by Jenkins."

One would have to be deeply uninvolved to realize that Rep. Davis has had a lousy term. And also worth noting is that the GOP machine, which really runs this district is split over Rep. Davis. I know this area is totally filled with Conservative voters - but they too are angry with their leadership. Our area has been changing quite a bit lately in terms of who is living and working here.

If a GOP challenger or if the Democrats would organize a smart campaign converging on how this section of the state has been allowed to dissipate into the far background instead of a priority for state attention and national concerns, I think that person could win by a landslide. But with precious few media outlets, local control also in the hands of a few party leaders and their crony-filled staff, new ideas and new directions are very hard to market.

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