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Tracy enters Congressional race as Gordon bows out

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

(Photo)
State Sen. Jim Tracy, right, congratulates Pat Marsh for winning the special state House District 62 race along with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Oct. 13. Tracy said it was his work on Marsh's campaign that led to suggestions he seek the Sixth District U.S. House seat.
(T-G file photo by Kent Flanagan)
Republican State Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville filed papers on Monday to seek the Sixth District U.S. House seat, on the same day that incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon revealed he will not seek re-election.

"I am definitely running," Tracy told the Times-Gazette Monday afternoon.

Tracy said that as he worked on behalf of State Rep. Pat Marsh in the October special election to fill that seat, various groups began to urge him to run for Congress. Since he first acknowledged that he was considering a run for the seat, he said he has received additional encouragement.

"It's been sort of overwhelming and humbling, to be honest with you," said Tracy.

Meanwhile, Gordon -- the longest-serving member of Tennessee's congressional delegation, having served 13 terms -- announced Monday he will not seek re-election to the seat.

Tracy said Gordon's announcement was a surprise and he wasn't sure how the race would change without the incumbent.

"I haven't given it much thought," said Tracy.

An open seat changes the game

Lou Ann Zelenik has stepped down as chairwoman of the Rutherford County Republican Party to focus on her challenge for Gordon's seat. Dave Evans of Wartrace, another Republican, announced his candidacy in March.

(Photo)
U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon speaks at a sometimes-contentious open meeting about the health care issue in August on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University.
(T-G file photo by Hugh Jones)
"It doesn't come as a surprise that Bart Gordon is retiring," said Evans.

Evans welcomed Tracy to the race but said that Tracy's legislative experience on the state level might not translate directly into experience at the national level. Evans, a major general in the Army Reserve, stressed his own experience in national security, international relations and diplomacy and said he hoped voters would take qualifications into account.

"I am still in the campaign and plan to be in it in the long haul," said Evans.

Zelenik posted a statement to her campaign Web site about Gordon's retirement.

"I applaud Congressman Gordon for his years of service to the people of Tennessee and for his willingness to accept the changes within our state. When Congressman Gordon came to office, the Sixth District was a very different place than it is today. I commend him for recognizing that the voters are looking for representation that more closely aligns with their values and giving them the opportunity to select a new congressman," stated Zelenik.

CPA and small business owner Kerry Roberts, another Republican, announced on Monday that he had filed all the necessary paperwork and is now officially a candidate for the seat.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. Henry Fincher, a Harvard-educated attorney from Cookeville, said he is considering joining the race. Gordon's decision will likely open the Democratic field even further.

Marsh reaction

Marsh said he'd just had lunch with Tracy and Chamber of Commerce executive director Walt Wood in Murfreesboro -- the meal had been planned for some time and wasn't related to the announcement.

"I'm just shocked and surprised that Bart decided to drop out," said Marsh. "I'm really glad for Jim."

Marsh praised Tracy for his hard work during the special election.

"I think we'll have a hard time finding anybody more qualified than Jim Tracy or anybody that will work any harder than Jim Tracy."

Tracy was first elected to the 16th District seat in 2004 and was re-elected last year. The district includes Bedford, Moore and part of Rutherford counties. He chairs the Senate Transportation Committee and is a member of the Education Committee and the State & Local Government Committee, among others.

Tracy said he was "ready to hit the ground running" in the U.S. House race and pledged to bring "common sense conservative principles" to Congress if elected. He said he wanted to be a check on the power of President Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

If Tracy were to be elected to the U.S. House seat, that would leave a vacancy in the State Senate seat. Marsh said he's just learning the ropes in the House and has no interest in seeking the Senate seat -- especially since the Senate district does not include Lincoln County, which he pledged to represent during the House race.

"I feel like I owe it to the people that elected me" to continue in the House, said Marsh. "I'm sure there will be a lot of fine folks wanting that job."

The Sixth Congressional District is shaped like a V, stretching from Marshall County northeast to Overton County and from Overton County west to Robertson County. Bedford County was added to the Sixth District with the 2002 election cycle after having been in the Fourth District for many years. GOP candidate John McCain carried the district by 25 percentage points last year over Barack Obama.

'Thinking about what's next'

Gordon, 60, won re-election easily last year, garnering 74 percent of the vote, but he was opposed only by Independent Chris Baker. Gordon and other Democratic congressmen in Tennessee were targeted by Republicans for next year's midterm elections following on the success of the GOP in state legislative races.

"Turning 60 has led me to do some thinking about what's next," he said in a statement. "I have an 8-year-old daughter and a wonderful wife who has a very demanding job, and I am the only child of my 83-year-old mother Margaret. They have made sacrifices to allow me to do what I love by serving Congress, and now it's my turn."

Gordon is the chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology. He was first elected in 1984, after Al Gore gave up his seat to run for the Senate. In 1994, he beat Steve Gill, a lawyer and later radio talk show host, by just 2,200 votes out of 180,000 cast in that race. He defeated Gill more comfortably in a rematch two years later, and has since cruised to re-election.

Gordon's announcement comes less than two weeks after fellow Tennessee Democratic Rep. John Tanner said he was retiring after 11 terms in Congress. That prompted Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron to drop his gubernatorial bid to instead seek Tanner's seat.

Gordon and Tanner had both drawn GOP challengers, as had Tennessee Democratic Congressman Lincoln Davis.

Andy Sere, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that Gordon's retirement "is yet another indication that Tennessee Democrats like Roy Herron and Lincoln Davis are fighting uphill in 2010." The NRCC has been assailing Gordon for his votes on health care, the federal stimulus package and on carbon cap-and-trade legislation.

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement, "We are confident that a Democrat who shares Chairman Gordon's commitment to putting progress before partisanship on behalf of Middle Tennessee will succeed him as the next representative of Tennessee's 6th District."

'A pro-life, pro-gun Democrat'

"I'm sure I have a lot of company in mulling it over," said Fincher.

Fincher, who has been a vocal supporter of gun rights and an opponent of abortion rights in the state legislature, said he expects a Democrat with "rural values" to have a strong showing.

"A pro-life, pro-gun Democrat can go toe-to-toe with anybody the GOP has to offer," he said.

--Associated Press reports contributed to this story.


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