By Turn Of Events
FROM AP AND STAFF REPORTS
NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee Democratic Party on Friday disavowed the man who won the nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in November, saying the little-known candidate belongs to an anti-gay "hate group."
Mark Clayton, 35, reported raising no money and campaigned little yet received more than 48,000 votes, twice the number of his nearest competitor in Thursday's seven-candidate Democratic primary to decide who faces Corker in November.
According to the Associated Press, Clayton is vice president of Falls Church, Va.-based Public Advocate of the United States, which describes itself as a conservative advocacy group.
The group states on its Internet website that it was founded in 1981 and supports such policy positions as "a federal traditional marriage (man-woman) amendment to the Constitution," "school prayer and the freedom of religious expression in public places," and "pro-life legislation."
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) calls the organization an anti-gay "hate group."
The Center, based in Montgomery, Ala., describes itself on its Internet website as "a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society."
The organization is known especially for using the court system to battle and, if possible, financially cripple organizations associated with violence against African-Americans or other minority groups.
(Please see accompanying article concerning Public Advocate of the United States and the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
Clayton, who did not immediately return messages left Friday by the Associated Press seeking reaction, said before the election his top issue was personal privacy.
He said he considers fusion centers as examples of how people are being "over-identified by the government and tracked."
Clayton said he works as a flooring installer and for a moving company, and that he also has been employed as an insurance agent.
"Sometimes the money gets a little thin so I work a job here and there," he said.
'CANDIDATES LITTLE KNOWN'
The party acknowledged in a statement that many Democrats knew nothing about any of the candidates and suggested that Clayton won simply because his name appeared first on the ballot.
"Many Democrats in Tennessee knew nothing about any of the candidates in the race, so they voted for the person at the top of the ticket," the statement said.
"Unfortunately, none of the other Democratic candidates were able to run the race needed to gain statewide visibility or support."
Friday's statement from the party began laying groundwork for a way to challenge Clayton, claiming he's not really a Democrat.
"The only time that Clayton has voted in a Democratic primary was when he was voting for himself," the statement said.
Clayton also ran for the Senate as a Democrat in 2008, collecting just over 32,000 votes and finishing fourth.
The party is trying to figure out what it can do beyond condemning Clayton, but no action has been taken so far that would change the result of Thursday's Democratic Primary.
"We aren't taking any options off the table at this time," party spokesman Sean Braisted said in an email.
"In terms of doing anything official, at this point, our current position is that we're just distancing ourselves, disavowing him of our support," Braisted said.
"He does not speak for the Democratic Party."
The party's statement on its website said that "the Tennessee Democratic Party disavows his candidacy, will not do anything to promote or support him in any way, and urges Democrats to write-in a candidate of their choice in November."
OVERALL: 'I'M REELING!'
Actress and environmental activist Park Overall, a Greene County native and resident, placed third among the seven candidates on the Democratic Primary ticket, with a total of 24,205 votes statewide, although she said she is little known in Middle and West Tennessee.
Overall, a self-described "liberal" and a rousing speaker, is known mainly as an outspoken figure on environmental causes such as the Pigeon River pollution and what she says are serious health risks associated with the Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) plant in Erwin.
She had never before been a candidate for elective or appointive public office and said she was recruited to run for the U.S. Senate seat by officials of the Tennessee Democratic Party.
During the campaign, she made a number of speeches and public appearances in various parts of the state and won the Democratic Primary endorsement of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
She said she is continuing to receive invitations to speak.
Overall said late Friday afternoon that she had been shocked by the party's announcement that it was disavowing Clayton, whom she said she did not know.
"I'm just reeling!" she said in an interview with The Greeneville Sun early Friday evening. "I can't believe that people just voted for him because he was the first name on the ticket."
"I'm saddened and disappointed that the Democratic Party has elected [in its state primary] what I consider a fringe conservative."
In a lighter vein, reflecting on the last several months, she joked that, in the future, she would prefer to receive "a political appointment" rather than having to campaign for elective office.
In 2008, the party stripped a state Senator who had sided with Republicans in a legislative leadership vote of her 19-vote primary win on the grounds that Republican involvement made the outcome "incurably uncertain."
Last month, a federal court upheld the action.
The Democrats and the state attorney general's office argued that the primaries are a party function and not a state election, so courts generally cannot get involved in disputes over who is named as the nominee.
Clayton wasn't the only candidate in this year's Senate primary to embarrass the Democrats.
The party previously alerted voters not to support T.K. Owens after it was reported he had been charged last year with solicitation of a minor over an encounter with a 7-year-old.
A psychological evaluation said Owens had a "severe mental disease." Owens finished last in the race but still gathered more than 13,000 votes.
When asked how such individuals became candidates, Braisted blamed the state's simple qualifying process. "It takes 25 signatures to get on the ballot in Tennessee," he said.
It was Republicans' turn to be embarrassed when their 2004 nominee in a northwest Tennessee congressional district turned out to be an advocate for the racist eugenics movement.
The party disavowed him and later stripped him of his ability to run as a Republican. He qualified as an independent to run for Congress this year.
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said he didn't blame Democrats for disavowing Clayton.
"But overall they probably should have disavowed every one of them because they're very weak candidates," Devaney said in a conference call with reporters.
-- Lucas L. Johnson II of the Associated Press did most of the reporting for this article.