Corker Wins Tenn. GOP Senate Primary

By BETH RUCKER
The Associated Press
Friday, August 4, 2006; 6:52 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker won a bruising three-way Republican primary for U.S. Senate and can now look ahead to an equally tough race in November.

Corker faces Harold Ford Jr., a Memphis congressman who would become the first black U.S. senator in the South since Reconstruction. Ford could also help the Democratic Party take control of the Senate.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting from Thursday's primary, Corker had 229,135 votes, or 48 percent, to Ed Bryant's 159,332, or 34 percent. Van Hilleary had 81,060, or 17 percent.

"The people of Tennessee have spoken, and I like what they have to say," Corker told supporters in Chattanooga.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is stepping down to consider a possible presidential bid in 2008.

Ford had an easier challenge in the Democratic primary with no serious opposition. With 96 percent of precincts counted, he had 332,265 votes, or 79 percent.

Political observers say Tennessee is one of six seats the Democrats would have to win if they hope to take control of the U.S. Senate in the Nov. 7 general election.

Hilleary and Bryant conceded late Thursday, congratulated Corker and vowed to support the Republican nominee.

"Tennessee can't afford to have Harold Ford Jr. as our next senator because his liberal record is out of step with Tennessee values," Bryant told supporters.

Corker, 53, led the Republicans in fundraising, collecting $6.6 million from outside sources and funneling in more than $2 million of his own money. Bryant and Hilleary each raised about $2.2 million.

There were no surprises in the gubernatorial primary as Democratic incumbent Gov. Phil Bredesen and Republican state Sen. Jim Bryson won easily.

Ford, who hosted a Nashville fundraiser and victory party with former President Clinton and Gov. Phil Bredesen on Thursday, criticized the negative tone of the Republican primary.

"I hope and pray that the kind of division and hatred and negativism that defined their race in the summer won't carry over into the fall," he said.

Tennessee has not elected a Democratic senator in 16 years, but the Democrats' cause is not hopeless, said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

"He certainly has a shot," Black said of Ford.

Frist has said his political legacy depends entirely on his seat being filled by a Republican.

Corker is "a proven leader," Frist said in a statement Thursday. "He's a man of character, a man of integrity and a man who knows how to get things done."

Bryant and Hilleary had questioned Corker's conservative credentials during the campaign, especially Corker's shifting position on abortion.

During an unsuccessful Senate campaign in 1994, Corker said he was personally opposed to abortion, but did not believe it was a government issue. He now says he opposes abortion rights.


© 2006 The Associated Press