Democrats could play large role in election

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Politics makes for interesting bedfellows.
   Northeast Tennessee has been a Republican stronghold for decades, and few counties have been more pronounced in their support for Republican candidates than Carter County.
   Who would have thought Carter's next state representative could be decided by the county's Democratic minority?
   "There are 3,000 Democrats who didn't vote in the Republican primary," said John Fetzer, chairman of the Carter County Democratic Party.
   Jerome Cochran won the Republican nomination for the state House 4th District by besting incumbent Ralph Cole in the party primary in August. Cole supporters have initiated a write-in campaign for the six-term incumbent in defiance of the primary result.
   The county's Democrat contingency could play a role in the race between two Republicans vying for the Fourth District state house seat.
   Chairman of the Carter County Republican Party, Dr. Harold Lane, told the Star the Carter County Republican Party is endorsing its' nominee -- Cochran.
   Ford denied the write-in campaign had divided local Republicans or the party.
   "It's not drawing swords," claimed Ford. "The party is clearly defined; we support the nominee."
   Fetzer stopped short of saying the county democratic party officially endorsed Cole as a candidate.
   "I've attended church with Ralph Cole for 50 years, and I've found him to be all right," said Fetzer, "but this is up to the voters."
   Local Democrats could be lining up behind Cole because of his support for legislation that included a state income tax in the past legislative session.
   Cochran won the party primary by over 350 votes. He is the only candidate for the seat listed on the general election ballot.
   A strong fiscal conservative, Cochran campaigned against Cole's decision to support legislation that enacted a state income tax and what he felt was the incumbent's allegiance to Gov. Don Sundquist and pro-income tax legislators rather than his constituents in Carter County.
   Cochran also questioned Cole's loyalty to the Republican Party and many core principals of low taxes and less government.
   Lane said that, should Cole win, he would be listed as an independent, not an elected Republican nominee. He added that Cole would retain his committee appointments on the 30-member House Finance, Ways and Means and Commerce committees.
   "It took Ralph a long time to get where he is," Ford said.
   Former county GOP party chairman Luther McKeehan was replaced by vice chairman Judy Robinson after McKeehan joined the Lamar Alexander senatorial campaign. Lane said he became chairman after Robinson was forced to step down because of illness.
   The two-week early voting period ended Thursday. Voter turnout was moving briskly, according to polling numbers from the Carter County Election Commission.
   Deputy Administrator Laura J. Tester reported that 5,042 citizens had voted in-person at the end of early voting. An additional 484 absentee ballots had been received by the commission, said Tester.