Cole supporters mounting write-in campaign

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   It seems state Rep. Ralph Cole will not be going gently into that good night.
   A group of citizens have initiated a write-in campaign for the 4th District representative who lost the Republican Primary to Jerome Cochran in August.
   A group called The Committee to Re-elect Ralph Cole has purchased advertising and placed signs along Elizabethton roadways this week.
   "This is the people's campaign," said Cole who spoke to the Star on Saturday.
   Cole said he had not initiated the write-in campaign and maintained he would serve if he won the general election. He added that a friend who had campaigned for him previously called him earlier this week and asked if he would serve if he won the general election.
   "I said 'if it is the will of the people, I will serve,'" Cole said. The six-term House member added that he was not behind the write-in effort and would leave the campaign to the citizens who started it.
   Cole lost his party's nomination for the seat in August when he was upset by political newcomer Jerome Cochran in the Republican Primary. He said he had received numerous phone calls in the weeks since the primary asking him to mount a write-in campaign.
   Cochran, an Elizabethton attorney who won the primary by 357 votes, is the only candidate for the seat listed on the general election ballot.
   During the primary campaign, he was critical of Cole's decision to support legislation that enacted a state income tax. He was also critical of what he felt was the incumbent's allegiance to Gov. Don Sundquist and pro-income tax Nashville legislators rather than his constituents in Carter County.
   Cochran staunchly opposed a state income tax and blamed Cole among other pro-income tax supporters when a budget battle forced a partial shutdown of state government in July.
   Cole served 13 years as state representative after being appointed by the Carter County Commission in 1989. He was elected to his first term in 1990.
   Cole said he spent the past week in Nashville cleaning out his office at the Capitol and saying good-bye to staff and friends.
   The write-in effort comes late in the November state election season. Early voting began on Wednesday and runs through Oct. 31 before Election Day on Nov. 5.
   Cole has approximately $58,000 in funds available to spend on another election campaign. His campaign war chest held over $76,000 in mid-July with $22,000 spent in campaign disbursements during the campaign's final two weeks, according to Cole's post-campaign financial disclosure statement submitted to the Carter County Election Commission in late September.
   He said the groundswell of support by citizens supporting him had been surprising and truly touching.
   "I am truly humbled by this," Cole said of the write-in effort. "I will take any direction these folks ask me to take."