- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 9, 2008

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. | Being linked to “Big Oil” turned into a big problem for Tennessee Republican freshman Rep. David Davis, who became the first congressman from that state to lose in a primary in more than four decades.

Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe defeated Mr. Davis by a 500-vote margin Thursday in the solidly Republican 1st District in the northeastern corner of the state.

Mr. Roe’s victory came after a bruising campaign in which he accused Mr. Davis of selling out to “Big Oil.”

Congressional incumbents from Tennessee are rarely voted out of office. Statewide, the last time an incumbent was defeated in a party primary was 1966, when Democrat Tom Murray lost to Ray Blanton in what was then the 7th District. Mr. Blanton won the general election then became governor in 1974.

“I will try to serve you with dignity and honesty, just like we ran this campaign,” Mr. Roe said. “Ain’t it fun to win one?”

With all precincts reporting, Mr. Roe had 25,916 votes, or 50 percent of the vote, to Mr. Davis’ 25,416 votes, or 49 percent. He will face Democrat Rob Russell in November, although the district has voted strongly Republican in the past.

The race became increasingly acrimonious as the primary election neared. Mr. Roe ran a TV ad accusing Mr. Davis of selling out to “Big Oil” by accepting money from industry PACs and backing legislation supporting offshore drilling.

During the last month of the campaign, gas prices in the district reached a record high of $3.94, according to figures from AAA.

Mr. Davis countered with radio ads denying he “pocketed” oil money, accused Mr. Roe of deceptive campaign practices and said “the voters of east Tennessee deserve better.”

Mr. Roe told reporters after his victory speech that he was aware Mr. Davis hadn’t acknowledged defeat, but said he considered his victory final.

“I knew the time was right, and I felt I was the right person to do it,” he said of his challenge of Mr. Davis.

Mr. Davis, a health care business owner, was elected in 2006 after a crowded primary for a vacated seat. Mr. Roe came in fourth in that primary.

A spokesman for Mr. Davis told the Associated Press that the congressman would make no public comment Friday beyond a statement thanking supporters and saying he wanted to make sure “every single vote that was cast is counted.”

Tennessee law authorizes a recount if there’s an indication of fraud affecting enough votes to change the result of the election. Mr. Davis did not say whether he will seek a recount or if he believes there was voter fraud.

Mr. Davis joins Rep. Chris Cannon, Utah Republican; Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, Maryland Republican; and Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat, who are also incumbents who lost their primary races this year.

Meanwhile, in the 9th District, in Memphis, a racially charged Democratic primary ended with an incumbent congressman trouncing the opponent who ran an ad linking him to the Ku Klux Klan.

Unofficial results showed Democrat Steve Cohen with 79 percent of the vote to 19 percent for Nikki Tinker, a black corporate lawyer who was his chief opponent in the district that covers Memphis, with all precincts reporting.

Mr. Cohen is the first white congressman from Memphis in more than three decades and one of only two white congressmen representing a majority black district.

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