In the story, Forrester identifies "the line" Democrats hope to hold this fall as 24 seats in the House and eight in the Senate. After redistricting and the spate of retirements that followed, Forrester told me that's just the hand they've been dealt.
But apparently, some elected Democrats — on the ground, as it were — saw that as a concession of defeat in this year's open races. After talking to staffers on both sides, it sounds like inboxes at the TNDP headquarters have been lighting up about the matter.
Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese tells me that Forrester was not writing off races where there is no Democratic incumbent — and for what it's worth, I didn't necessarily take it that way when we spoke for the story, either — but rather acknowledging the baseline Democrats hope to hold and build on. He says they're excited about lots of candidates, including Darren Jernigan and Phillip North, among others, running in Davidson County districts 60 and 20 respectively. He sent along a statement, in an attempt to clarify the situation:
"At the conclusion of this year's General Assembly, we had 24 seats held by Democratic incumbents in the House and eight in the Senate," the statement reads. "We are committed to protecting our leaders and expanding their ranks by supporting our great candidates throughout the state who stepped up to challenge the majority's extreme overreach and failure to create jobs."
In the interest of fairness, I shared that statement and Puttbrese's comments with the office of House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, which had already expressed to me his disagreement with Forrester's assessment. The clarification, it seems, did not clear things up.
“While I certainly respect Chairman Forrester and I appreciate the job he and his staff are doing for the Tennessee Democratic Party, I part ways with him on the assessment of our current situation," reads a statement from Fitzhugh. "For the last two years, I have been extremely proud to lead the members of the House Democratic Caucus. These men and women are fighting hard for teachers, state employees and middle-class working families. Going into this elections cycle we certainly face a challenge — as we always have — but we have a great group of candidates that I am confident will carry the day. At the end of the day, I don’t know where our numbers will be next year, but I do know that jobs matter, education matters and people matter. That’s what we’ve been fighting for and that’s exactly what we plan to do next year.”
It's not altogether surprising to see elected Democrats — who face the prospect of trying to operate next session as an even smaller minority — taking an optimistic view of the upcoming elections. Fitzhugh has been expressing such cautious optimism since session's end and Mike Turner has told me he believes the party "could be back" in 2016.
But that will require an election night performance that looks nothing like two years ago, when Turner himself said that even Mahatma Ghandi couldn't have won as a Democrat in the wrong district.