They did it again. On Thursday, Tennessee Democrats picked a statewide candidate with zero political experience. His campaign platform is based on sending incumbent Gov. Bill Haslam (R) to the electric chair. Charlie Brown, a retired engineer from Oakdale whose name is misspelled on his own Facebook page, may owe his victory in the gubernatorial primary to appearing as the first name on the ballot. But he gives full credit to God. "I got down on my knees and prayed about it," he told Mother Jones, when asked about his campaign strategy. "That hit you pretty hard, huh? That took you for a loop, huh?"
In 2012, anti-gay activist Mark Clayton, who also had no political track record won the nod to take on GOP Sen. Bob Corker. His name was also the first name listed on the ballot. Clayton initially filed to run against Haslam this year but was rejected by the state party. The state party did not, however, unite behind a more experienced candidate to challenge the popular Haslam.
The 72-year-old Brown did not raise money or campaign actively for the seat. Instead, he sent two letters to the editor to every major newspaper in the state, outlining his plans for Tennessee, which included bringing back teacher tenure, restoring benefits for civil servants, spending his gubernatorial salary on large deer for hunters, and raising speed limits on the interstate highways to 80 mph "because everyone does anyway." (Brown says he has been pulled over for speeding, but "not lately.") "Let me give you something: My main interest is to put the Bible back in school," he said on Friday. "You can write that down."
"I'd still like to put his butt in that electric chair and turn it on about half throttle and let him smell a little bit," Brown said of Haslam. "You can print that if you want to."
Shortly before the election, he says a higher power intervened on his behalf. "I was sitting on the interstate waiting on a guy," he said, "and something hit me just like that, and it said to get down on your knees to pray. I got down right there on the interstate. There's a wide place, where there's a pullout. There wasn't anybody there. And I got down and asked the Lord to get me through this thing and he did. Now listen, I'm not no preacher, I'm just a Christian. I'm just a sinner saved by grace. I'm just like everybody else."
Brown said he would update his Facebook after he got off the phone (it has since been taken down), and plans to campaign more actively in the fall, but downplays the uphill challenge he faces.
"I'm gonna campaign big time!" Brown said. "They said I was unknown—I've been in the newspaper for years under Peanuts!"
Voters in Tennessee’s fourth congressional district sent a clear message to future Republican candidates on Thursday: If you pressure your mistress to get an abortion, you might (eventually) lose your job for it you can get away with basically anything.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who pressured a woman—one of two patients he admitted having affairs with—to get an abortion in the 1990s, appears to have narrowly avoided becoming the fourth Republican incumbent to lose a primary this year. With 100 percent of precincts reporting on Thursday, he led state Sen. Jim Tracy by 35 votes—34,787 to 34,752. (The results are not official and a recount is possible, although the state has no law mandating one in such circumstances.) The abortion revelation emerged after DesJarlais' 2012 primary, when the only thing standing between him and reelection in the deeply Republican district was a token Democratic candidate in the general election.
But after his reelection, the dominoes continued to fall. Divorce transcripts released two weeks after the race revealed that he and his first wife had decided to abort two pregnancies. That proved a problem for the congressman, who is adamantly pro-life: Per his website, "Congressman DesJarlais believes that all life should be cherished and protected. He has received a 100% score by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the oldest and the largest national pro-life organization in the United States."
This year, the congressman faced a serious challenge from Tracy, who entered the race almost immediately after DesJarlais returned to Washington. As Jason Linkins notes, Tracy didn't make DesJarlais's past a focal point until July, although when he did, he went all in. Per the Chattanooga Times Free-Press:
The front of the mailer depicts wooden toy letter blocks spelling "baby," and goes on to say, "Abortions. Affairs. Abuse of Power. We can't trust DesJarlais to Fight for Our Values."
DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson called the piece "just the sort of disgusting gutter politics we'd expected from [U.S. House Democratic leader] Nancy Pelosi and her allies in Washington."
Having an affair with your patient is pretty creepy, and attempting to deny reproductive rights to women after privately advocating for women to get abortions is kind of a weird thing to put on your resumé. On the other hand, DesJarlais did produce this ad once, in which two good ol' boys play checkers while talking about how awesome he is:
Republicans' path to taking over the Senate just got a little bit easier. Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) announced on Thursday he would end his Senate campaign after the New York Timesreported last month that he had plagiarized portions of his 2007 Army War College thesis. Walsh, a former lieutenant governor and adjutant general of the state national guard, was appointed to the seat vacated by Ambassador to China Max Baucus but struggled to generate much enthusiasm among voters. Montana Democrats have until August 20 to find a new nominee. But whoever wins the Democratic nod will have a tough row to hoe against GOP Rep. (and creationism advocate) Steve Daines, who held a 16-point lead in a CBS/New York Times poll taken lost month.
The Obama Cousin Who Compared Obama to Hitler Just Lost His Kansas GOP Primary
Fred Blocher/Kansas City Star/ZumaPress.com
Unseating an incumbent senator is always difficult, but Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) presented an enticing challenge. In an interview with the New York Times, Roberts said he sleeps on a friend's recliner on the rare occasions he returns to Kansas. Later, in a radio interview, he admitted that he tries to return to Kansas "every time I get an opponent." Roberts might have been in trouble against a serious challenger. Instead he faced political newcomer Milton Wolf, whom he dispatched by 7 points on Tuesday.
Wolf's qualifications as a Kansas tea party activist began with his family tree. He is a second cousin of President Barack Obama—whom he compared to Hitler—and a doctor, qualifications that earned him invitations to appear on cable news and talk radio to critique the Affordable Care Act as an unconstitutional attack on Americans' liberties. But Wolf's hopes of becoming the next great conservative insurgent candidate died in February at a Topeka diner, where a reporter from the Topeka Capital-Journal confronted him about images on his Facebook page (deleted before the campaign) of X-rays he'd taken of gunshot victims. Although billed as a tea party vs. establishment showdown, the Roberts-Wolf race was more of a referendum on social-media protocol. And in Kansas, the verdict is clear: You shouldn't post X-rays of gunshot victims on Facebook. —T.M.
GOP Rebel Justin Amash Just Beat a Guy Who Called Him "Al Qaeda's Best Friend"
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) AP
The GOP's business establishment talked openly about making conservative hardliners pay for pushing Washington toward a debt ceiling crisis last fall. But that wave of Chamber of Commerce-funded primary challengers to conservative incumbents never materialized. The Chamber settled on trying to take out Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a second-term congressman and Ron Paul disciple famous for voting "no" on pretty much everything—even the Paul Ryan budget—and for cobbling together a bipartisan coalition to rein in the NSA's domestic surveillance programs. It was the first part that drew the ire of business interests in his district, and the second part that made him the villain in one of the year's nastiest campaign ads. Amash, challenger Brian Ellis warned, was "Al Qaeda's best friend" in Congress.
Ellis received a rare primary endorsement from an incumbent member of Amash's Michigan delegation, GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, an NSA defender. But we're not in 2002 anymore; it turns out Amash's civil libertarianism plays pretty well in the western Michigan district that gave America Gerald Ford. Boosted by deep-pocketed donors of his own (including the DeVos family), Amash eased past Ellis, making him a sure-thing to win a third term in November. —T.M.
Michigan GOP Primary Results: "Foreclosure King" Beats Santa Impersonator
The War on Christmas seems to comes earlier every year: Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.), a Santa impersonator who was elected to Congress by accident in 2012, was defeated in a 30-point landslide on Tuesday, becoming this year's first (and probably only) victim of the Republican establishment's dissatisfaction with congressional tea partiers.
Bentivolio won his party's nomination two years ago in a fluke after the incumbent, Rep. Thad McCotter, failed to qualify for the ballot and abruptly resigned. (A high school teacher and reindeer rancher, Bentivolio was the only Republican left on the ballot.) Bentivolio never fully sold himself as a serious congressman—he once promised to hold a hearing on chemtrails, the conspiracy theory that airplanes are brainwashing Americans with poison—making him an obvious target, despite winning the backing of Speaker of the House John Boehner.
More interesting than Bentivolio, who always had a placeholder feel to him, is the man who trounced him the primary—David Trott, a high-powered Republican donor whose law firm happens to process most of Michigan's foreclosures. As one registrar of deeds in southeast Michigan put it in December, Trott & Trott "made a living off of monetizing human misery." A big donor to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, and a member of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee's Michigan finance committee, Trott is an archetypal establishment Republican.
But he'll still have his work cut out for him: Romney won the 11th District by just 4 points in 2012. He'll take on the winner of the Democratic race between former CIA analyst Bobby McKenzie (backed by national Democrats) and urologist Anil Kumar. —T.M.
Tea Partier Staves Off Primary Challenge in Koch Country
Todd Tiahrt (left) and Rep. Mike Pompeo (right) at a July debate in Wichita Mike Hutmacher/AP
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) withstood a challenge from his predecessor, former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, in a battle for the House district that's home to Charles Koch, the billionaire GOP donor and industrialist, and his company, Koch Industries. Tiahrt was a close ally of Koch Industries during his House tenure in the '90s and 2000s, taking in more than $329,000 from the company's PAC and employees over the course of his career. But Pompeo—whom Tiahrt handpicked to replace him when he ran for US Senate (and lost) in 2010—has since become Koch's favorite son. The company endorsed Pompeo this time around. Koch's backing boosted the incumbent's monetary advantage. As of July 16, Pompeo had raised a little over $2 million, while Tiahrt had only drawn $155,000 (with just $65,000 left in the bank).
Pompeo was the incumbent, but his success is actually a win for the tea party. As a congressman, Tiahrt was a founding member of the House tea party caucus. But for his comeback attempt, he ditched his prior conservative persona and ran as a moderate, even populist Republican, arguing for the reinstatement of earmarks and questioning Pompeo's support for NSA spying. Conservative groups, including the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and Americans for Prosperity lined up to support Pompeo, a tea party favorite since he joined the House in 2011. There won't be a revival of moderate conservatism in Kochland anytime soon. —P.C.
Unseating an incumbent senator is always difficult, but Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) presented an enticing challenge. In an interview with the New York Times, Roberts said he sleeps on a friend's recliner on the rare occasions he returns to Kansas. Later, in a radio interview, he admitted that he tries to return to Kansas "every time I get an opponent." Roberts might have been in trouble against a serious challenger. Instead he faced political newcomer Milton Wolf, whom he dispatched by seven points on Tuesday.
Wolf's qualifications as a Kansas tea party activist began with his family tree. He is a second cousin of President Barack Obama—whom he compared to Hitler—and a doctor, qualifications that earned him invitations to appear on cable news and talk radio to critique the Affordable Care Act as an unconstitutional attack on Americans' liberties. But Wolf's hopes of becoming the next great conservative insurgent candidate died in February at a Topeka diner, where a reporter from the Topeka Capital-Journal confronted him about images on his Facebook page (deleted before the campaign) of x-rays he'd taken of gunshot victims. Although billed as a tea party vs. establishment showdown, the Roberts-Wolf race was more of a referendum on social media protocol. And in Kansas, the verdict is clear: You shouldn't post x-rays of gunshot victims on Facebook.