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Haslam heads Republican stampede (w/slideshow)

Confetti flies around Republican Bill Haslam at his victory party in Knoxville after winning the governor's race Tuesday.
Confetti flies around Republican Bill Haslam at his victory party in Knoxville after winning the governor's race Tuesday.

They will be talking about what the Republicans did Tuesday in Tennessee long after the new set of lawmakers are gone.

Students of Tennessee history will learn from whatever new contraption serves as a book one day about the year the Repubicans completed a sweep, capturing the governor's office and majorities in both the House and Senate in the Tennessee General Assembly, possibly reshaping state government for many years to come.

And they will learn of the landslide victory by Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, who had it all the way.

Haslam shed all challengers. From the announcment of his candidacy in 2009, to the chill of winter in 2010 when he aired his introductory campaign ads, to the grind of summer and fall, good solid opponents proved hapless against Haslam. They never came close.

Opponents, including Democratic nominee Mike McWherter, threw everything they could at Haslam -- from questioning his income from the Haslam family business, Pilot Corp., to skepticism over Haslam's position on guns to poor attempts even to connect Pilot to Iran -- nothing worked for them.

With Haslam's organization, campaign contributions, personal wealth, volunteers and an almost flawless campaign strategy, no one else seemed to have a chance.

With three precincts still out from Shelby County early Wednesday morning, Haslam had gathered 1,041,409 votes to McWherter's 529,834. Not even the son of former Gov. Ned McWherter, one of state's most revered leaders, could seriously challenge Haslam.

"Tonight the people of Tennessee have honored me by allowing me to be your next governor, and I'm very grateful" Haslam told a crowd Tuesday night at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Knoxville.

"Whether you voted for us or not, I will work hard for all Tennesseans. That's why I ran for governor, and I promise you that."

The work for the governor-elect begins immediately. While he held his election night victory party in Knoxville, Haslam will be in Nashville on Wednesday to meet with current Gov. Phil Bredesen and begin mapping out a new administration with his team.

Haslam's victory came the same night as astounding strides by Republicans in the state legislature and in Tennessee's congressional delegation, where three Democratic seats went to Republicans.

Diane Black, a state senator, knocked off Democrat Brett Carter in the 6th District race handily to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon.

In a seat that retiring Democrat John Tanner could have almost bequeathed to someone in any other year, the seat in the 8th District went to a farmer from Frog Jump, Stephen Fincher, who defeated state Sen. Roy Herron.

And Lincoln Davis, an incumbent Democrat in the 4th District, may have suffered the most startling loss of the day, falling to Scott DesJarlais, a brand new face, who survived a campaign filled with harsh negative ads.

Those victories for the GOP left Tennessee with a 7-2 advantage for Republicans in the state's congressional delegation. The only two Democrats left standing in Washington from Tennessee are Jim Cooper in the 5th District and Steve Cohen in the 9th.

The trend was part of a national phenomenon, as Republicans overwhelmingly regained the majority in the U.S. House. But there was no leader this year like Newt Gingrich, who guided the Republican Revolution of 1994. Instead, the inspiration for voters in this election seemed merely to be dissatisfaction with Democratic leadership in Congress, the long-suffering economy and a $13.6 trillion national debt.

Democrats who might have won in any other year won't have to look back and wonder what they could have done differently to win this year, because as it turned out, there was nothing they could have done. It was that kind of year.

"I think the country is saying, 'We're concerned about the direction. We're concerned about spending more than we're bringing in.' And everybody knows that pattern can't continue," Haslam told reporters after his speech to the crowd in Knoxville.

"I think it's one of the things they look to the states for -- to balance budgets the right way and show Washington it can be done."

Haslam reiterated his warning that the state must replace $1.5 billion in its budget because of vanishing stimulus funds.

"Solving a big budget issue is going to be right on top of you quick," Haslam said.

Haslam apparently has a team that understands the task at hand.

"Tomorrow you roll up your sleeves and get to work," said Mark Cate, Haslam's campaign manager. "There's not a celebration lap or a victory lap. It's all about getting to work. There are serious issues facing the state. We've got to get after them."


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