I'm just off the phone with Tennessee Democratic Party chair Chip Forrester. He reiterated that the state party is disavowing the embarrassing candidacy of Mark Clayton, but said the party will not be removing Clayton from the ballot as many have been calling for. A transcript of our conversation:
Pith: How did this happen, you think?
Forrester: Well first, let me just make very clear that we are disavowing his candidacy and that a candidate who espouses these kinds of values, this kind of hatred and bigotry is not a candidate that the Democratic Party can embrace. He's affiliated with an organization that causes us real concern. The Public Advocates of the United States. A fringe group and we cannot abide supporting a candidate whose values are so diametrically opposed to those of middle class Tennesseans and Democratic values that we all cherish and so today I am disavowing any relationship that he might have with the Tennessee Democratic Party going forward, as the nominee and urging Democrats to write in a candidate of their choice in November.
As far as the vetting process for these candidates goes, how does a guy like this get to this point?
Well, Tennessee has a very low threshold of 25 signatures to get on the ballot. So it's not difficult to offer yourself as a candidate. We have a very small window of five days after candidate paperwork is filed and there are 99 House seats, 33 Senate seats, nine congressional seats. So we have five days to withdraw or not allow a Democratic candidate to be placed on a ballot. And it's also a slippery slope to keep a candidate off the ballot. And frankly, we didn't expect him to win ... he had spent no money. But with turnout so low and [him] at the top of the ticket and his ballot placement as a "C", it gave him, because nobody knew who these candidates were, an edge to win the primary.
That being said, we can't stand by and let a candidate who espouses those kinds of hate values receive support of the Tennessee Democratic Party or Tennessee Democrats.
Do you think it's fair for people to blame the state party or you for this happening? I know the party has disavowed his candidacy now, but just for the fact that he got this far and won, do you think that's fair?
Well, I certainly spent a lot of time and the staff spent a lot of time talking to prospective candidates. It is difficult when the Republican has a $10 million war chest and a personal checkbook that is in excess of that, to recruit a candidate against that kind of campaign war chest is difficult.
We did not get involved in the primary, we don't get involved in primaries, so we had a number of candidates that filed and it's a difficult mountain for us to climb when your Republican opponent has that kind of financial resource.
So, now that this has happened, is there any chance of this playing out similarly to the Rosalind Kurita case in the sense of the party getting him off the ballot, or will you guys simply be urging people to write someone else in and that's the end of it?
The Rosalind Kurita case was a special case where the two candidates were separated by an extremely small number of votes and those votes that were cast and how they were cast — at the end of the day the executive committee felt they were tainted and removed those votes which gave Tim Barnes a victory, but an extremely small margin of victory.
In this case, the numbers are such that there wouldn't be the opportunity to review the votes.
OK. So just so we're clear, he will be on the ballot and you guys are just urging people to write someone else in, but he won't be taken off the ballot by the party?