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GOP has big lead in state political donations

/ Source: The Associated Press

Tennesseans are giving a lot more money to Republicans than Democrats, even though they remain almost evenly divided on party affiliation.

The GOP is getting three out of every four dollars donated in federal political contributions for the 2004 election, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have headlined fund-raising events in Tennessee, the most recent being a reception Bush attended last week. That event alone raised roughly $1.7 million for the Republican National Committee.

"The president has a lot of friends in Tennessee and has put forth policies that resonate with the people of Tennessee," said Ken Mehlman, the Bush-Cheney campaign manager. "Tennessee is a great place to raise resources."

Tennessee has been the ninth-best state for GOP political contributions of at least $200. The state just missed making the top 10 list of states in the amount contributed to President Bush's re-election campaign, giving him just more than $4 million.

A survey late last year by the Pew Research Center found that Republicans hold a slight 35 percent to 32 percent edge in affiliation among registered voters in Tennessee.

"Party identification doesn't necessarily reflect where the money is, and that's not surprising," Larry Noble, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told The Tennessean's Washington bureau. "It clearly is a situation where the money is much more Republican than the voters."

State Democrats have a 5-4 margin in Congress while Republicans control two of the three statewide offices. The governor is a Democrat and the party holds the majority of state Legislature seats.

Vanderbilt University political scientist Bruce Oppenheimer said current campaign laws favor Republicans, who are able to get more of the $1,000 and $2,000 donations needed to raise a lot of money.

"Republicans have more activists at that level than the Democrats," Oppenheimer said. "Democrats have to rely on much smaller contributions."

Republicans have 12 of the top 20 individual Tennessee donors.

The list includes Nashville real estate entrepreneur Ted Welch, who gave $45,300, and retired Chapmansboro water heater mogul John Lindahl, who gave $60,000.

Knoxville Pilot Oil executives James Haslam II and James Haslam III, also the mayor of Knoxville, contributed $34,000 and $42,500, respectively.

Just two of the top 20 donated solely to Democrats _ Nashville's Jane Eskind with $55,500 and Andrew Byrd of Andrew W. Byrd Co. with $29,000.

The GOP is also helped by Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader from Tennessee, who continues to raise large amounts for the party.

Frist has given $333,000 to Republican candidates and party committees through his political action committee. He also has funneled $726,500 in earmarked contributions from the PAC's supporters to 12 Senate candidates.

"Everybody likes to support the home team and their local people when they make it big," Noble said. "It's a pride issue, but it's also a basic business reason for supporting them, and that is that these people are in a position to help the state."