Bill Freeman, Tennessee Democrats’ top fundraiser and a possible candidate for governor in 2018, is calling for the Tennessee Democratic Party to bring in a new party chair to replace Mary Mancini after Democrats suffered yet another round of sweeping losses in state legislative races last week.
“After a loss like this, I think we’ve got to look at every option including a new chair,” Freeman told The Tennessean.
“Much like in the NFL if a coach is 0-16, he might be the greatest guy in the world, but we’re all interested in results and this was a terrible failure on the part of all Democrats,” he said. “We’ve got to change direction and find new leadership and a new direction.”
Mancini, a liberal activist from Nashville, has served as chair of the state party for the past two years after replacing former chairman Roy Herron. Her term expires in January, when the Tennessee Democratic Party's Executive Committee will meet to vote on a chair. She confirmed she plans on seeking another two-year term.
“All I can tell you is I’m running for chair again,” Mancini said when asked about Freeman’s comments.
Freeman plans to outline his criticism in a letter Monday to the Tennessee Democratic Party’s Executive Committee.
Tennessee Democrats are licking their wounds after watching Republicans expand their supermajority in the House to 74 of the 99 seats following last week's election and hold their Republican majority 28 to 5. Republican Donald Trump finished with more than 61 percent of the vote in Tennessee, eclipsing margins of both Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008.
“We are going to review everything that we’ve done, and we’re going to learn from our successes and from our mistakes and move forward,” Mancini said.
The only Republican incumbent who lost reelection was Rep. Steve McManus, R-Shelby County, who fell to Democrat Dwayne Thompson.
Tennessee Democrats this year deployed a strategy of recruiting women to run against Republican incumbents in state legislative races. But none of the 20 Democratic women who were part of that effort won on Tuesday.
Mancini said she believes the strategy was nonetheless significant for the party because it helped Democrats recruit candidates who she said “were capable, smart and cared about our Democratic values.”
“Nothing is impossible,” she said of Democrats’ chances moving forward in Tennessee. “I think what we have to do is keep building on what we’ve accomplished in the last two years, which is a lot, and then have to move forward and take the lessons from this election cycle and learn from them.”
Freeman, a wealthy real estate professional who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Nashville last year despite an enormous cash advantage, is the state’s top donor for Democrats. He kicked off the election cycle this year by giving a $100,000 check to House Democrats and contributed individually to Tennessee Democratic candidates and the state party throughout the year.
He also served as a campaign finance bundler for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, which involved hosting multiple fundraisers for Clinton including one at his Forest Hills home. Freeman is currently weighing a Democratic run for governor, saying he would likely make a decision by early next year.
Freeman and other Democrats are already floating a possible candidate to run against Mancini — Holly McCall, a recent Democratic candidate who lost by a lopsided margin last week to Republican Sam Whitson in the House District 65 race in Williamson County to replace ousted Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham.
Freeman said he would support McCall if she decided to run for the chairman position
“I think she would bring a breath of fresh air, energy, hard-working commitment,” Freeman said. “And we need to give others an opportunity to serve.”
McCall said she is interested in seeking the chair position but did offer any criticism of Mancini.
"Just in the last few days, I've had several prominent members of Democratic leadership contact me to express their desire to see me run for state party chair," she said. "I'm honored that they looked at the way I ran my campaign and have reached out to me. I'm interested and I'm going to take the next week or so and mull it over."
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.