GOP expects battle   

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  Republicans from various geographic areas on Thursday morning came to Elizabethton for the opening of the Carter County Republican Party campaign headquarters on East Elk Avenue in downtown Elizabethton.
  The opening included appearances from local and state GOP luminaries including U.S. Congressman William Jenkins, state Republican Party Chair Beth Harwell and former U.S. congressman and GOP gubernatorial nominee Van Hilleary.
  With the Bush administration dealing with insurgent forces in Iraq and on movies screens, GOP representatives know a second term will be a challenge.
  "We are fighting a tough one in 2004," Jenkins said of the coming election season. The most recent Zogby America poll found President Bush running neck-and-neck with likely Democratic nominee Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. The Zogby poll that included positive economic news and mixed reports from the Middle East gave Bush an edge over Kerry in battleground states of Michigan, Nevada, Florida, and West Virginia.
  When investigations into the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the U.S. military started last month, Zogby polling reported Kerry's lead over Bush actually dropped three points from 44 percent to a 42 percent margin.
  Jenkins spoke of a little-known but shocking political upset that occurred in the 1st Congressional District over 70 years ago. He produced an original campaign placard of O.B. Lovette, an independent candidate who ran against and defeated stalwart Republican Congressman Carroll B. Reece to win the 1st District Congressional seat in 1930. Lovette's victory came when most voters thought incumbent Reece was a shoe-in for the seat.
  "In November," Jenkins told fellow Republicans, "remember the same thing about our president."
  State Republican Party Chairwoman Beth Harwell also said the party remained committed to gaining a majority of seats in the state House and Senate where Democrats presently hold majorities.
  "We've got the best candidates this cycle, and we are poised to capture some seats," said Harwell.
  Two days after the United States handed over power to the new Iraqi government, ex-dictator Saddam Hussein made his first court appearance before an Iraqi magistrate Thursday morning. U.S. forces continue to face attack from Iraqi insurgents loyal to Hussein. American television has also been bombarded with photographs of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and tortured at Abu Ghraib Prison in Baghdad.
  Republican officials, including Harwell and Jenkins, said they had no plans to see Michael Moore's controversial film "Fahrenheit 9/11" blasting President Bush and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The film purportedly relates the Bush family's connection to the royal Saudi family and criticizes the president's initial reaction upon hearing news of the 9/11 attacks.
  Jenkins alluded to past terrorist attacks on U.S. military and civilians in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and the USS Cole in Yemen that yielded only a mild response before the Bush administration entered the White House. He said the events of Sept. 11, 2001 demanded more than words from a president.
  "Our response I believe has surprised terrorist regimes around the world," he said.
  Unlike the presidential race of 2000, Bush is not expected to face an uphill campaign battle in Tennessee as he did against native son Al Gore. Bush won Tennessee four years ago thanks in no small part to GOP-minded citizens in East Tennessee where voter turnout exceeded 60 and 70 percent in some counties.
  While Kerry has not announced a running mate, one name mentioned often is that of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. Edwards challenged for the Democratic nomination early, winning the South Carolina primary and making strong showings in Tennessee.
  County GOP chairman Jay Nidiffer said despite Bush's popularity in Tennessee, Republicans were not taking a victory for granted.
  "I would like to think East Tennessee would leave no question that he is our man," said Nidiffer.
  The Aug. 5 ballot includes the county general election as well as the state and federal primaries.
  Locally, the party's marquee local race pits incumbent state Rep. Jerome Cochran against former county assessor of property, John Holsclaw in the state Republican primary for the 4th District seat in the state House of Representatives. Cochran won his first term in 2002.
  Jenkins faces challenger David R. Smith of Kingsport in the federal Republican primary. Three candidates - William Malcolm Earp, Jr. of Bristol; Lewis Hopkins of Sneedville; and Graham Leonard of Kingsport - are vying for the Democratic nomination to face Jenkins in November. Independent candidates Ralph J. Ball of Bulls Gap and Michael Peavler of Jonesborough have also qualified to run against Jenkins in November.