This year promises to be an exciting one in Tennessee politics as voters will elect a new senator to replace Bob Corker, who is not seeking re-election, and a new governor to replace Bill Haslam, who is term limited.
The big question is this one: Will Tennessee go blue in either race?
That, of course, depends on who you ask. GOP loyalists are not about to admit even the possibility of a turnover in either office in a state that went solidly Republican in 2016. Democrats, on the other hand, hoping to ride a wave of non-majority party victories that are predicted in the midterm elections, have great hopes that one or both races will go in their favor.
Interestingly, two former Nashville mayors, both Democrats, are candidates in each. Both enjoyed immense popularity when they served Nashville, and one, Phil Bredesen, also was a very popular governor.
Karl Dean, who succeeded Bredesen as mayor, should give any of the Republicans in the race for governor a run for his/her money, and you can bet there will be national support to help him. The aforementioned midterms, both federal and state, will have huge implications for both parties.
In the Republican gubernatorial primary, a recent poll indicates U.S. Rep. Diane Black holds a narrow lead over Knoxville entrepreneur Randy Boyd, with Nashville businessman Bill Lee and House Speaker Beth Harwell each trailing a few points behind. Another candidate, Kay White from East Tennessee, appears to be in a distant fifth-place position.
The same poll shows Dean having a comfortable lead over his primary opponent, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh from Ripley.
It’s probably a safe bet to say Dean will be the Democratic nominee. But even with the polling information, there is still enough time for any of the GOP contenders to give or make up ground.
The most interesting race, and the one that will attract the most attention nationally, is sure to be the one for the United States Senate. With Bredesen and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn having opposition in their respective primaries with little name recognition and not appearing to pose much of a threat, a showdown between these two in November seems probable.
Bredesen, a moderate, is already portraying himself as one who will be able to work on both sides of the aisle, citing the bipartisan support he enjoyed as governor. In a commercial that’s currently running, he says he is not running against Donald Trump but, rather, he’s running to represent the people of Tennessee.
He points out that, while Trump might not be his favorite person (I paraphrase), if the president proposes something he believes is good for the country, he will get behind it.
In other words, Phil Bredesen is saying to you Tennessee voters, he understands you voted overwhelmingly for President Trump and knows he needs your vote, which might cause you to cross party lines to put him in office. He wants you to believe he can reach common ground and that, just as he did when he was your governor, he can and will work with both Republicans and Democrats.
And he points to his record to support that. As stated, he was a popular governor and mayor and when running for governor, he handily defeated GOP opponents. He obviously appealed to both independents and crossover Republicans. He has referenced his friendship with Senator Corker, a Republican, and Corker has acknowledged same.
In the meantime, Marsha Blackburn is portraying herself as the conservative Tennesseans want and deserve, one who will fight to fix a broken and dysfunctional senate. In her “Why I’m Running” announcement, she referred to “too many Senate Republicans” who “act like Democrats or worse.”
She is proudly touting her support of President Trump (as is Diane Black, who features him prominently in her commercials), and her conservative record.
Although Blackburn has not thrown too many grenades in Bredesen’s direction just yet, the Tennessee Republican Party did it for her last week when former Vice President Joe Biden came to town to headline a Bredesen fundraiser, issuing a statement referencing the “Biden-Bredesen bromance.”
Whether things get much nastier than that remains to be seen, but you can count on spirited races for governor and senator. With a long way to go until November, be advised to hold on to your hats.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.