NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Democratic Party is disavowing the man who won the party's nomination to challenge Republican 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 but received more than 48,000 votes, twice the number of his nearest competitor in Thursday's seven-candidate Democratic primary.
Clayton is vice president of Falls Church, Va.-based Public Advocate of the United States, which calls itself a conservative advocacy group. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the organization an anti-gay hate group.
Clayton did not immediately return messages left Friday. Public Advocate says on its website that it "offers strong and vocal opposition to," among other things, "same-sex marriage and the furtherance of so-called gay rights."
The Tennessee Democratic Party said 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.
Party spokesman Sean Braisted said officials are trying to figure out what the party can do beyond condemning Clayton.
"We aren't taking any options off the table at this time," Braisted said in an email. "He does not speak for the Democratic Party."
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 ran for the Senate as a Democrat in 2008, collecting just over 32,000 votes and finishing fourth.