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Rep. Bart Gordons (D) surprise retirement announcement Monday set off a scramble as potential successors on both sides of the aisle in middle Tennessees 6th district began jockeying for position in the newest open-seat contest of the 2010 cycle.
The conservative seat, which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won by 25 points in the 2008 presidential race, is certainly a golden opportunity for Republicans. It includes several suburban Nashville counties that have become one of the fastest-growing Republican areas in the state in recent years.
But Democrats insist that even without Gordon, they can be competitive in a district that Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen won with 52 percent in 2002 and 67 percent in 2006.
That seat has sort of trended Republicans for years, Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Keith Talley said. But those people over there are middle of the road folks, and thats why they kept sending Congressman Gordon to Congress for 13 terms.
On the Republican side, two candidates who had been quietly building their 2010 campaigns moved up their announcement schedules and formally entered the race Monday.
One of those candidates, state Sen. Jim Tracy, was on Capitol Hill earlier this month meeting with the National Republican Congressional Committee about getting into the contest.
Tracy had already hired Nashville-area political strategist Mike McCrady, who has worked on Tennessee state legislative races and in the 2008 cycle worked for Florida 22nd district GOP nominee Allen West. McCrady said Monday that internal polling had shown Tracy ahead of Gordon but within the margin of error in a hypothetical matchup.
Tracy, a former teacher who also owns an insurance business, represents a little more than a third of the districts population.
Nashville-based conservative talk radio show host Steve Gill, who ran against Gordon twice in the 1990s and came within about 2,000 votes of winning the seat in 1994, said Tracy brings a proven electoral ability to the contest but he faces a bit of a challenge in that I dont think this is a strong incumbent year.
As a state Senator, he kind of has that Im in the government and Im here to help you taint, Gill said.
Gill, who lives outside the 6th district and said he has no intention of running again, said the local anti-incumbent mood may benefit former Rutherford County GOP Chairwoman Lou Ann Zelenik, who has sought to embrace the tea party movement since joining the race in October.
Zelenik, who has deep pockets and a compelling personal story as a successful construction business owner, has made a point of attacking career politicians. Before Monday she was already on the air with radio ads that introduced her to voters and bashed Gordon for his record during his quarter-century in Congress.
Part of the groundswell we have seen this year was to take power from the hands of professional politicians and give voice to the men and women who work hard, create the jobs and pay the bills, Zelenik said in a statement Monday in the wake of Gordons announcement.
Another GOP candidate who is running on the anti-politician platform is Kerry Roberts, a Nashville businessman who owns one of the largest bicycle chains in Tennessee.