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Bill Haslam wins GOP nomination for governor in Tennessee

Updated at 12:08 p.m.

By Aaron Blake

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam ran away with the Republican nomination for governor of Tennessee on Thursday, beating a field that included Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

With 6 percent of precincts reporting, Haslam led second-place Wamp 52 percent to 27 percent. The Associated Press has called the race in Haslam's favor.

Haslam moves on to the general election, where he will be a favorite against businessman Mike McWherter (D), the son of former Gov. Ned McWherter (D). Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen is term limited.

In Haslam, Republicans got probably their best candidate for the general election. He has proven both a solid fundraiser and can self-fund, and he also carved out a more moderate profile than either Wamp or Ramsey.

Wamp becomes the latest member of Congress to fall short in his campaign for governor. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) lost on Tuesday, and Reps. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) and Artur Davis (D-Ala.) lost primaries earlier this year.

In other races being held in the state Thursday, state Sen. Roy Herron (D) and farmer/gospel singer Stephen Fincher (R) won their respective primaries in retiring Rep. John Tanner's (D-Tenn.) battleground district. Fincher, a top recruit of national Republicans, easily beat two very well-funded opponents in physician Ron Kirkland and Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn.

In the Memphis-based 9th district, Rep. Steve Cohen (D) had no trouble with former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. Cohen led 81 percent to 19 percent in early returns. Herenton based his candidacy on race, saying the majority-black district needed a black representative.

Wamp will likely be replaced by Republican Chuck Fleischmann, after the attorney edged Club for Growth candidate Robin Smith in a crowded GOP primary. It is the first loss by a Club-endorsed candidate in 10 races so far this year.

State Sen. Diane Black won a tight GOP race to succeed retiring Rep. Bart Gordon (D). After beating Tea Party activist Lou Ann Zelenik and state Sen. Jim Tracy both by 1 percent, Black will be a strong favorite in the general election against unheralded Democrat Brett Carter.

Republicans also may go after Rep. Lincoln Davis (D) in his conservative rural Tennessee district, where Dr. Scott DesJarlais won the GOP primary Thursday.

In other races, Sarah Palin-backed CeCe Heil finished third in the GOP primary to face Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.).

By Aaron Blake  |  August 5, 2010; 9:02 PM ET
Categories:  Governors , House  
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