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Marsha Has a Primary Opponent -- County Register Leatherwood

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Marsha Blackburn, the Republican congressman (her preferred term) for Tennessee’s 7th congressional district, would seem unassailable at the polls. Since her first -- relatively easy -- primary victory in 2002 over a field of mainly well-known fellow Republicans, she has basically had nominal opposition -- and that from self-sacrificing no-name Democrats in the fall.

But suddenly, with next week's filing deadline beckoning, Blackburn faces primary opposition from a GOP office-holder, Shelby County register and former state senator Tom Leatherwood, who reckons that his day job, which isn’t up for election again until 2010, will serve as a satisfactory "parachute," is ready to take Blackburn on this year.

"I told somebody, 'It's not a steep hill. I've just walked up to the face of the cliff," Leatherwood jests self-effacingly. But he believes the risk (which includes possible estrangement from certain fellow Republicans) is worth taking.

Why does he think Blackburn, a rising star in Republican ranks as an assistant whip in the House of Representatives, should be opposed? "Two things. Effectiveness and ethics," he says. He regards Blackburn as ineffective on policy matters like the national deficit (about her ranking position, he says, "We have nothing to show for it"), and he cites her "twenty private special-interest trips" to places like Aspen, Colorado, as evidence of questionable ethics.

Leatherwood has enough chutzpah to have suggested to Blackburn in a recent telephone conversation that "it's time for her to go home." Unsurprisingly, she declined to agree.

A substitute teacher before he upset venerable Republican state Senator Leonard Dunavant in the 1992 Republican primary, Leatherwood, who won the register's seat in 2000, recalls being told, "You have to wait your time." He says, "If I had 'waited my time,' I'd still be waiting."

Obviously, he decided not to wait for a better time to run for Congress. "The issues facing the country are too great," he says.

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