Virginia Couch

Tennessee GOP to decide whether to overturn result of Knoxville House primary

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Republican’s Party’s state executive committee is scheduled to hold a conference call Wednesday evening to decide a challenge of businessman Eddie Mannis’ 99-vote win over real estate agent Gina Oster in the GOP primary for an open state House seat in Knoxville.

Oster, who had the backing of conservative activists, claims Democratic crossover voting made he difference for Mannis. Of course, there’s no way to say from whom voters cast their secret ballots and a counter-argument is that they might have been voting for Oster to give Democratic nominee Virginia Couch an easier path toward victory in November.

Local party activists had sought to keep Mannis off the ballot entirely because of moderate positions and his vote in the Democratic presidential primary in March. But Party Chairman Scott Golden turned back that challenge after Mannis was vouched for by Republican luminaries such as Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, and state Sen. Richard Briggs.

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe has been keeping a close eye on proceedings, and reports in his column that Knox County executive committee members Jane Chedester and Michele Carringer (herself the GOP nominee to succeed retiring Knoxville Rep. Bill Dunn) have indicated they support retaining Mannis’ nomination. So has incumbent Rep. Martin Daniel, who isn’t seeking re-election.

Here’s Ashe’s take:

Defeated GOP legislative candidate Gina Oster keeps trying to snatch a win from Eddie Mannis…. It is hard to believe that a committee in Nashville would discard the valid election result. Oster previously lost a school board contest to Doug Harris. If Oster is handed a nomination she did not win fair and square at the ballot box, the Democratic nominee, Virginia Couch, would become the odds-on favorite to win in November.

As The Tennessee Journal reported recently, the district is no longer a lock for Republicans. Daniel won just 51.5% of the vote in 2018, slightly underperforming the 53% received by Bill Lee in the governor’s race and by Burchett in his bid for Congress. And fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn got just 46% of the district’s vote in the U.S. Senate race against former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen two years ago. While 57% voted for Trump in 2016, the president’s numbers are expected to be far weaker this year.

Given the increasingly swing characteristics of District 18, the GOP attacks on Mannis are all the more perplexing. As a well-respected businessman and founder of a nonprofit organization flying veterans to visit war memorials in Washington, Mannis’ more moderate leanings appear to make him a stronger candidate in the general election. But he clearly wasn’t the choice of hardliners who contributed to Oster during the primary. They included House Majority Leader William Lamberth, and Reps. Daniel, Clay Doggett, Rick Eldridge, Johnny Garrett, Bruce Griffey, and Chris Todd.