Just shortly before I took a job covering Tennessee politics in 2006, a very wise man, sensing I was more a follower of national rather than state politics, warned me about the unique and exceptional nature of Tennessee politics.
Tennessee is not “red” or “blue,” he explained, but a strong shade of purple. He emphasized how independent the state was and how resistant it was to national trends. He spoke of how Tennessee had a tradition of conservative Democrats, often from the rural West, as well as moderate Republicans, often from the mountain East.
When analyzing Tennessee politics, he warned, do not attempt to “DC-ize” the state and its landscape. It is a very different animal — far less partisan and predictable than the nation at-large.
Good advice — at the time. Would it still be? I wonder. Especially, if the below is anywhere close to true.
Governor Bill Haslam Not only does Mike Wherter not cut a very impressive figure as a candidate, he has been outspent, out-messaged, out-maneuvered and outworked. Just two and a half years ago, McWherter bowed out of the race to challenge Lamar Alexander for fear, among other things, of getting beat so embarrassingly that his political career would be over before it started. The bullet that McWherter dodged in 2008 will hit him with full force today.
Haslam has not just sowed up his base and the center. He has also made strong inroads with those who will vote Democratic elsewhere on the ballot. The only saving grace for McWherter is that Haslam’s recent missteps on guns might have pushed back a few Democrats who were toying with the idea of voting for Haslam. While it is possible that McWherter wins a county or two (Shelby, Weakley, Haywood and Houston are candidates), I say Haslam runs the table winning all 95 counties and keeps McWherter well under the 40% mark. Haslam 65%-34%.
TN-04 Scott DesJarlais I can’t spell his name right without looking it up but, come January, I think Scott DesJarlais is going to be a Tennessee congressman. The fact that this race is even close speaks to what kind of year this is going to be for Republicans. Lincoln Davis is just about as conservative as you can be these days and still be a Democrat. He is NRA-endorsed, God-fearing and votes against his party when it could damage him back home. In other words, Davis has done everything “right.”
Unfortunately, no one cares about all that. The electorate is looking to turn out incumbents and Lincoln Davis was simply caught flat-footed. He failed to keep his warchest adequately stocked and didn’t really see Scott DesJarlais coming until the political novice was ahead of him. At that point, the national GOP money came in and kept the boot on his neck until election day.
Davis mounted a spirited campaign at the end but his barrage of negative ads was seen by some as desperate and may have actually raised the profile of his opponent. I think it will be very close, within a percentage point or two, but Lincoln Davis is going down — and with him the rural base of the old Tennessee Democratic Party.
TN-08, etc. If Lincoln Davis is at risk, Roy Herron doesn’t have a chance. The preacher/lawyer/politician goes down 53%-45% to Stephen Fincher. Brett Carter falls to Diane Black by far worse.
In TN-05, David Hall will receive a surprising number of votes pushing his percentage deeper into the 40s than it should be, but Jim Cooper will come through 56%-43%. Rep. Steve Cohen will also prevail comfortably although his opponent will combine race and tea party sentiment into a nice little percentage.
Tennessee House Republicans pick up six Early on, I thought some observers were not taking the prospect of a second term Kent Williams speakership seriously. Williams had done an adequate job in the role and successfully got his deputy, Scotty Campbell, elected to the House in his own right. Along with Rep. Dale Ford and possibly a few others, Williams could have conceivably added four or more votes to whatever the Democrats could muster and hold on to the speakership.
While definitely an exciting scenario from a spectator sport perspective, it depends on the party breakdown straying not too far from the status quo. It will. Republicans will take all the “leaners” and most of the tossups. I think first term incumbent Republican Terri Lynn Weaver actually does lose her seat while Rep. Ty Cobb (D-Columbia) keeps his. However, the rest of the contested races are going to go very badly for the Democrats. Jim Gotto will join Beth Harwell as a Republican representing Davidson County and incumbent Democrats Fraley, Barker and Coleman will lose. At the end of the day, the chamber will have 56 Republicans, 42 Democrats and one independent.
The Speaker Glen Casada With the kind of margin I’m seeing, Kent Williams has no chance to cobble together a majority. There will be many candidates amongst the Republicans (there already are) but, when everything shakes out, there will be only two. Beth Harwell has given out a lot of money and will likely be the new governor’s candidate (at least privately) but Glen Casada has banked more favors and has more friends that matter. Barring a serious misstep or scandal, Casada is the Speaker for the foreseeable future.
Tennessee Senate Republicans pick up one George McDonald is a great candidate and well-suited to his district. As Sean Braisted has said, in any other year, his rural populist Democrat campaign against Mae Beavers might have been interesting. This, however, is not that year. The final tally will be far closer than it should be for Beavers — but she will hold her seat.
Senate Democratic Caucus chair Lowe Finney will not be so lucky. Don McLeary had recently switched parties from Democrat to Republican when he lost to Finney in 2006. Democrats focused much of their attention on defeating him on general principle. Finney also had the benefit of a strong Democratic current nationally and Harold Ford, Jr. and Phil Bredesen were atop his ticket. This year Finney is carrying Mike McWherter and Barack Obama on his back through a tough conservative district. I say he loses narrowly giving the state Senate an even 20 Republicans and 13 Democrats.