State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, shown during a Senate floor debate (Erik Schelzig/AP Photo).
KNOXVILLE — Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield, a controversial lawmaker who often drew the ire of his own GOP colleagues, lost his seat to a Knoxville cardiac surgeon in Thursday's election primary.
With all precincts reporting, Richard Briggs had 13,977 votes, or 66 percent, compared with Campfield's 5,824 votes, or 28 percent.
The primary was expected to be tough for Campfield, a highly visible lawmaker who often drew attention and sometimes ridicule for his polarizing comments, as well as sponsoring contentious bills on social issues.
They included one ridiculed as the "Don't Say Gay" bill and another that would cut welfare benefits to parents whose children aren't doing well in school.
Most recently, Campfield made national news when he compared the federal health care law to the forced transportation of Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust in a blog post.
"Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign-ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of mandatory sign-ups for 'train rides' for Jews in the 40s," he wrote. The misspelling of "mandatory" appeared in the original text.
Campfield's remark drew swift condemnation and demands for apology from both Democratic and Republican leaders in the state — including the governor.
"Words matter, and to make the comparison to the Holocaust is wrong, inappropriate and insensitive," said Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor.
However, University of Tennessee, Knoxville political analyst Anthony Nownes said Campfield was simply representing the views of his constituents.
"One of the things that has always surprised me is that people act like Stacey Campfield is the only person who believes these things," Nownes said.
Campfield did not immediately return a call seeking comment. However, he posted a blog that said "that was fun" and featured a YouTube video of Frank Sinatra singing "My Way."
Briggs was elected to the Knox County Commission in 2008. After graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in 1978, Briggs joined the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of colonel. He served in combat during Operation Desert Storm and was awarded the Bronze Star.
"This exceeded expectations," Briggs said. "We thought we were in a good position to win, but we're absolutely elated we did much better than we thought."
Another Republican lawmaker who has been scrutinized by some members of his own party is Sen. Jim Summerville, who faces two serious challengers for his District 25 seat.
With 91 percent of precincts reporting, former Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield had 9,266 votes, or 42 percent, compared with Summerville's 3,537 votes, or 16 percent. Former state Rep. Joshua Evans of Greenbrier had 8,297 votes, or 38 percent.
Last year, Summerville proposed a measure to eliminate affirmative action initiatives from higher education institutions in Tennessee. After the legislation failed in the Senate Education Committee, the Dickson Republican threatened GOP lawmakers who voted against it, saying they would face repercussions in this year's election.
"Every Republican with a primary opponent will have to answer for the vote on this bill, and why they believe some Americans aren't ready for equal treatment," he said.
Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said Republicans — as well as business leaders — believe such legislation and polarizing comments like the one concerning the Holocaust actually hurt the state.
"There are business interests and sort of economic conservatives who are saying, these are not the people we need," Oppenheimer said. "It's problematic."
Other Republican incumbents who lost include:
— Rep. Tony Shipley in District 2. With all precincts reporting, retired policeman Bud Hulsey had 5,046 votes, or 60 percent, compared with Shipley's 3,391 votes, or 40 percent.
— Rep. Vance Dennis in District 71. With all precincts reporting, principal and coach David Byrd had 5,786 votes, or 53 percent, compared with Dennis' 5,074 votes, or 47 percent.
Democrats in close races were:
— Sen. Ophelia Ford in District 29, challenged by Memphis City Councilman Lee Harris. With 67 percent of precincts reporting, Harris had 8,693 votes, or 42 percent, compared with Ford's 5,726 votes, or 27 percent. Challenger Ricky Dixon had 5,847 votes, or 28 percent.
— Rep. Gary Odom in District 55, challenged by attorney John Clemmons. With 68 percent of precincts reporting, Clemmons had 1,850 votes, or 54 percent, compared with Odom's 1,558 votes, or 46 percent.comments powered by Disqus