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August 16, 2012

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What does it take to win the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Tennessee? Not money or endorsements—although those elements surely help—but having a surname that begins with one of the first three letters of the alphabet is apparently more important. And if you’re a fringe candidate in a one-party state like Tennessee, it takes just 25 signatures to place your name on the ballot.

“The guy hasn’t even updated his website since 2008,” Sean Braisted of the Tennessee Democratic Party told The Daily Beast website. “So the only logical thing is that he was the first name on the ballot.”

That’s what a victorious Mark Clayton found on Aug. 2 after winning the primary to confront incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga. But state Democrats were less than pleased and quickly moved to distance themselves from Clayton, who espouses extremist conservative values and reportedly has a negative obsession with gay rights.

As embarrassing as Clayton’s 20-point victory may be, it seems the Democrats are stuck with Clayton. Last week, The Tennessean reported that Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester missed the opportunity to keep Clayton off the ballot. According to the Nashville paper’s political blog, “In Session,” Forrester had seven days after the April 5 qualifying deadline to question whether Clayton was a “bona fide” member of the Democratic Party. After that date, party and state officials had no legal grounds to block his candidacy, elections coordinator Mark Goins wrote in a letter released this morning to Democratic candidate Larry Crim.

“Realize 50,000 Democrat voters voted for Mr. Clayton and he met all of the statutory requirements at the time of qualifying,” Goins told the paper.

While Corker had little reason to fret over most any Democratic candidate vying for his Senate seat, this snafu does little to ease the frayed nerves of Tennessee Democrats, who suffer a debilitating and marginalized role in state politics.

—B.R.

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August 16, 2012

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