Handicapping TN-06

It’s coming. The tidal wave of anger that swept Republicans into power in 1994 looms on the horizon as Democrats announce their retirement one by one. In my own home district, Congressman Bart Gordon recently declared that he would not seek re-election. Gordon generally wins by wide margins, but in a district that favored McCain by 25-points over Obama, perhaps the Congressman saw the proverbial writing on the wall.

The Cook PVI rates TN-06 as R+13. Maybe that’s why no Dems have filed papers to replace Gordon.

It looks like the real fight will be in the Republican primary, where six challengers must fight it out for enough votes to make it to the general election: State Senator Diane Black, retired General Dave Evans, businessman Gary Mann, businessman Kerry Roberts, State Senator Jim Tracy, and former Rutherford County Republican Party Chair Lou Ann Zelenik.

Right off the bat, I don’t think Gary Mann or Dave Evans have a shot. With all due respect to both candidates, Evans has been in the race since last February and has raised pennies to the dollars that the other candidates have raised, and for whatever reason, Gary Mann’s race was over before it started. (No pun intended: Mann used to be active in the racing community.)

By eliminating those two candidates, voters must decide between the establishment choices (Black and Tracy) and the grassroots candidates (Roberts and Zelenik).

Voters aren’t particularly happy with “the establishment” these days. Despite their name recognition and fundraising ability, it will be tough for Senators Black and Tracy to connect with the grassroots, which is particularly important, given that there are two vocal tea party groups in the district: the Middle Tennessee Tea Party and Sumner United for Responsible Government.

Not only that, but both Senators voted for a $1 billion budget increase last year, a message which will sour voters who understand that wreckless spending got us where we are today. Senator Black sponsored legislation that paves the way for toll road construction in Tennessee; something she calls “alternative road construction.” Mind you, Tennessee instituted a pay-as-you-go system for road construction in the mid-1920s.

Grassroots and tea party types – those who edged Doug Hoffman toward the finish line in NY-23 and those who called voters in Massachusetts and donated money to Scott Brown – have only two options.

Lou Ann Zelenik ran unsuccessfully in 2008 for State Representative. In what many called a dirty campaign, Zelenik auxilliaries personally attacked her Republican primary opponent, Joe Carr, who won the nomination and the general election. Shortly thereafter, she began building a tea party movement through the Rutherford County Republican Party. Early tea party protests in Murfreesboro were sponsored and organized by the local GOP, of which she was the Chair.

Kerry Roberts has been quietly meeting with voters since he announced his candidacy in December. He owns several bicycle shops in Nashville and lives in the northern part of the district. If he can prove himself a competitive fundraiser, then I think his message will resonate with the most number of voters. As Roberts says, people don’t want to send politicians to Washington to “solve” the problems that politicians created.

One thing voters know: TN-06 is on the front lines of the battle for the GOP to take back Congress.