In first place was Clayton, with 48,000 votes. He had spent just $65 to get them. But, state Democratic officials said, Clayton had a crucial advantage: The ballot was alphabetical.
“Many Democrats in Tennessee knew nothing about any of the candidates in the race, so they voted for the person at the top of the ticket,” the party said in a statement the next day. Because of his ties to Public Advocate of the United States, the statement said, “the Tennessee Democratic Party disavows his candidacy [and] will not do anything to promote or support him in any way.”
A quiet campaign
Today, it’s easy to visit Tennessee and not realize that there’s a Senate campaign going on.
At Corker’s headquarters in Nashville, the campaign hasn’t even bothered with a sign out front.
Clayton, for his part, has released a few online ads and a revamped Web site. But a recent drive to raise $450 in donations has stalled south of $300.
It’s clear, however, that he is savoring a victory already — over the rest of Tennessee’s Democrats.
“If there are people who don’t believe that there’s a campaign here, then guess what? They can come to Tennessee, if they’re a voter, and they can see Mark E. Clayton, and next to Mark E. Clayton there’s going to be a ‘D,’ ” he said on the phone. “Like it or not, Mark Clayton is the Democratic nominee in Tennessee.”
Among others in his party, there’s hope that this is really the bottom. They’re encouraged by a new crop of Democratic mayors in the state’s big cities. And they’re trying to figure out a screening test that will keep people like Clayton off the Democratic ballot in the future.
But it’s hard to find a definition of “Democrat” that everyone here likes.
“We have a large segment of our party that’s pro-life. . . . And you know, a lot of us have guns,” said Jim Bilbo, an executive committee member from Cleveland, Tenn. “We’re not going to come up with language saying, you know, ‘We believe in a woman’s right to choose,’ and all that stuff.
“All of the suggestions that I have seen have been so broad that they’re almost meaningless,” Bilbo said. “Like, ‘Stand up for the principles of the Democratic Party.’ Well, what are those principles?”
In this election, Democrats have told their voters just to write in a name instead of voting for Clayton. But at this low ebb, they don’t have another name to suggest.
Just pick somebody, voters are told. Word is, a lot of early voters used “Big Bird.”