August 5th, 2010
10:05 AM ET
12 years ago

Controversial comments spice up Tennessee primary

(CNN) - Polls are open in Tennessee, where a Republican gubernatorial battle and some contentious House nomination fights are in the spotlight in Thursday's primary.

Five candidates are on the ballot in the GOP contest for governor, but recent polls indicate it's a three-man race between Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. The race grabbed national attention last month because of controversial comments by two of the candidates.

Last month Wamp appeared to suggest that Tennessee should consider secession in light of mandates forced on the states by the Obama administration's health care bill. The eight-term congressman later walked back from those comments.

Ramsey also drew attention to himself last month after he was seen in a You Tube video questioning whether Islam is a religion while expressing his opposition to the expansion of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which has become a hot-button issue in the city about 35 miles southeast of Nashville.

Ramsey, who has been endorsed by 20 Tea Party organizations, said he is a supporter of religious freedoms but such protections may not extend to facilitating "shariah [Islamic] law into the state of Tennesseeā€¦ into the United States.

"Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, a cult, whatever you want to call it," he continued. "But certainly we do protect our religions, but at the same time, this is something we are going to have to face."

Following criticism, Ramsey defended his comments, saying, "My concern is that far too much of Islam has come to resemble a violent political philosophy more than peace-loving religion."

"Haslam has led the race from the beginning and comes into today with the advantage," says Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "Wamp and Ramsey have struggled to put together even money to broaden their geographic bases and knock the other guy out to become the clear alternative to Haslam."

The winner of the GOP primary will face off in November against Mike McWherter, a Democratic businessman and son of a former governor. The race is to succeed two-term Democratic governor Phil Bredesen, who is prevented by term limits from running again. Political handicappers think Republicans have a good shot at winning back the governor's office.

Also grabbing attention are competitive primaries on both sides for the open seats in Tennessee's 3rd, 6th and 8th congressional districts.

The Center for Responsible Politics calls the race in 8th District the most expensive House contest in the country. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that $5.2 million has already been spent in the battle to fill the seat of retiring 11-term Democratic Rep. John Tanner. The Republican establishment's choice for the nomination, Stephen Fincher, a farmer and gospel singer, is being challenged by two physicians.

In the 6th District, five Democrats and seven Republicans are vying to replace retiring 13-term Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon. In both the 6th and 8th, the GOP primaries have turned negative.

In the third district, 11 GOP candidates and four Democrats are hoping to succeed Wamp.

Race is a crucial issue in the Democratic primary for the 9th District, which covers Memphis and has a large African-American population. Two-term Democratic Rep. Steven Cohen is facing a primary challenge from former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who is black.

Herenton has been urging voters to elect him as the only African-American member of the state's Congressional delegation, saying, "It is as if only white people live in the great state of Tennessee. No African-Americans. I believe that it is very clear to the majority of the citizens of this community that we lack representation."

Cohen ,who served as a state lawmaker in the area before being elected to Congress, has campaigned on what he's done for education and health care in the area. He said, "I represent everybody and I work hard for people to get them opportunities. And I just think that race should not be an issue in 2010."

President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus back Cohen.

Filed under: 2010 • Bill Haslam • Ron Ramsey • Tennessee • Zach Wamp
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. connie richee

    The world would be a better place if we were all color blind

    August 5, 2010 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  2. The Constitution needs updating badly

    Lets get by the comedy and give the job to Dolly Parton.At least she has some credibility and puts on a great show.

    August 5, 2010 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  3. redneckbluedog

    Indeed, but the real dark horse in this race is Mr. Basil Marceaux....Go to You Tube and search for Basil Marceaux...a real Tennesseean that truly reflects the values of that great (intelligent) state.....

    August 5, 2010 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  4. cecilia

    Dear Lord, I can't help it if I am from Tennessee, but I can vote for the best person when the time comes. And these candidates are NOT the ones to vote for .
    sometimes it is hard to defend TN when stupidity is so obvious.


    August 5, 2010 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  5. hangemhi

    Interesting, is Muslum a religion? Seldom reported condemnation of terrorism by the "peace loving Muslum" makes me wonder if it is a political entity seeking world domination? On the other side though is the civil rights movement using the Chistian pulpit to further their political agenda. One took the avenue of peace the other terror, one sociably acceptable the other not. I like civil rights but not terrorism. Next I think about American terrorists bombing abortion clinics in the name of God. Many in the religious community spoke out against terrorist tactics. I'm trying to look at different aspects of groups furthering their agendas from a religious base and can only come to the conclusion that the world is full of hateful people seeking to control people by fear and intimidation. I like Ghandi's creed of "be the change you want to see". PEACE

    August 5, 2010 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  6. Marty, FL

    The GOP not only has a "birther" issue; Republicans also appear to have a secessionist problem. In addition to AIP Palin and TX Perry, TN Wamp has joined the ranks of secessionist nonsense.

    August 5, 2010 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  7. Dave

    Not wanting a mosque built because WE ARE AT WAR WITH ISLAM is not controversial. The left needs to wake up an realize it.

    Suggesting secession because the federal government has become completely inept, incompetent, and frivilous with spending and the economy is not controversial. If anything, it is standing up for a State's rights and doing what is right for it's citizens.

    The only ones who think these things are controversial are the left wing and the media with them.

    August 5, 2010 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  8. phoenix86

    Most states should succeed. The United States that you learn about and the founding fathers created has been killed by liberals and democraps.

    August 5, 2010 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  9. Liberal4Obama

    The GOP loves America so much that it wants to divide us all and tear this great country apart.

    Makes no sense, like it makes no sense electing republicans in November, there should be less not more of them in power as they only block progress and constantly work to take us backward.

    August 5, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. brian in denver

    Mr. Ramsey's comments regarding the Muslim religion are appallingly ignorant & reflect a bigotry that is eyed by the rest of the world as frightening, stupid & reprehensible.

    No wonder he's endorsed by 20 Tea Party organizations.

    Wamp's suggestion that Tennessee should consider secession is another example of supreme intelligence.

    Add these foolish remarks to those made by others in So. Carolina, Alabama & Georgia & one has to wonder if they're ain't sumpthin' in the water down south that makes folks laughingly stupid.

    August 5, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  11. vic

    Lot of commercial in the air attacking each other. Defending the attacks ,
    There are lot of sign in front of pooling station no solution how to crate job for Tennessean
    6th congressional district same kind of race

    We are tired watching these but one hope Good democratic candidate running for governor, two good candidates running for democratic primary in 6th congressional district

    August 5, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  12. Mightymo

    It must really suck to be a conservative GOPer. To think that the only option they can consider is secession because Obama got his Health Care Reform bill passed.
    It must be a miserable situation to be in. I mean more than likely being a religiously influenced conservative who is unwilling to offer care for all of his/her fellow citizens.

    August 5, 2010 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  13. mickey lane

    About time someone in the US demonstrated the 'cojones' to tell it like it is about the muslins. Thank you, Mr. Ramsey. Too bad I don't live in your state otherwise YOU would get my vote!

    August 5, 2010 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  14. Brad

    I LOVE it when the Righties quarrell among themselves like two year olds . . .

    August 5, 2010 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |