NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A top Republican strategist says a 308-vote special election victory in a heavily GOP state Senate district should serve as a wakeup call for the state party in Tennessee.
The contest was narrowly won by State Rep. Mark Pody, a main sponsor of unsuccessful bills seeking to rescind the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same sex marriage and to require students to use restrooms corresponding to the gender listed on their birth certificates.
While President Donald Trump carried the six counties northeast of Nashville by 48 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton last year, Pody prevailed over little-known Democrat Mary Alice Carfi on Tuesday by just 2.6 percentage points.
Republican operative Ward Baker said the result following so quickly on the heels of Democratic victory in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama last week should serve as “a clear example of why we can’t take anything for granted.”
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Baker in his previous role as executive director of the National Republican Senate Committee was credited last year with holding onto a GOP majority in the U.S. Senate against heavy odds. He is now a private consultant and is advising U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s Senate campaign.
“It’s time for Tennessee Republicans to wake up and engage the voter base,” Baker said in a series of tweets Tuesday evening.
“Democrats shifted a deep red seat by 46 points,” he said. “We may have a 2006 environment, but we can’t run 2006 campaigns. It’s 2018 — only data-driven campaigns will deliver reliable wins.”
The seat was opened by the resignation of state Sen. Mae Beavers, who is running for governor. She and Pody were frequent co-sponsors of hot-button legislation. Beavers was unopposed last time she ran for re-election in 2014, earning more than 35,000 votes in the process.
By contrast, a total of just 11,672 ballots were cast in Tuesday’s special election conducted on a rainy day just before Christmas.
Democrats accustomed to heavy defeats in the increasingly Republican state took heart from the narrow loss Tuesday. State Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini was quick to send out a fundraising appeal afterward.
“Mary Alice Carfi came so close to winning the special election because volunteers showed up to knock on doors and make phone calls and Get Out The Vote!” she said in the email. “We can win in any part of Tennessee if we have your support.”
Michael Sullivan, the executive director of the state Republican Party, said there are “lessons to be learned from every race.” But he stressed the GOP’s record of success in elections and in shaping the state’s robust economy.
“Last night was a reminder that no election can ever be viewed as an easy win,” he said. “Republicans have demonstrated we can govern, and govern well, but we have to show we want, and will fight for, every single vote out there.”