- Associated Press - Saturday, January 10, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee Democrats hoping to improve their bleak prospects in the state have elected activist Mary Mancini as their next chairwoman.

The party’s executive committee voted 61-9 on Saturday for Mancini over Lenda Sherrell, of Monteagle.

“We have to define what it means to be a Democrat,” Mancini told the panel after the vote. “We can no longer allow Republicans to define who we are.”

Democrats hold just five of 33 seats in the state Senate and 26 of 99 seats in the House, and haven’t won an open statewide race since Phil Bredesen was first elected governor in 2002.

Mancini is a Nashville resident who formerly headed the advocacy group Tennessee Citizen Action, where she helped organize large-scale voter registration drives.

She sought the party leadership position after losing the Democratic nomination for a Nashville state Senate seat to attorney Jeff Yarbro. Yarbro, who won the Senate Democratic caucus chairman after his election, voted for Mancini on Saturday.

Mancini outlined the laundry list of tasks ahead for Democrats.

“Now it’s time to get to work. Together we must work hard to elect Democrats. We must re-build and re-energize the base. We have to strengthen our county parties. And we have to lay the groundwork for the next several election cycles,” she said.

Mancini said the long-term goal is to ensure Democrats have a say when legislative and congressional seats are redrawn after the next census in 2020.

“And of course we need to raise the funds to have the best use of tools available to successful,” she said. “And these are the things we have to do together.”

Mancini succeeds former state Sen. Roy Herron, who did not seek another term.

Sherrell unsuccessfully challenged Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the November election. Two other candidates for the chairmanship, former state Rep. Gloria Johnson and former U.S. Senate candidate Terry Adams, dropped out before the vote.

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