Dems to Sing Some Memphis Blues in Tennessee

  With no Senate seat up for grabs, the only statewide race is for Governor to replace incumbent Democrat Phil Bredesen.  The Democrats are running Mike McWherter while the Republican race was more interesting.  In that primary, 3rd district Representative resigned the seat to seek the Gubernatorial nomination, but lost to Bill Haslam in a vote that really was not that close.  Haslam is the former mayor of Knoxville.  Most political reports give the nod to Haslam and in fact, according to RCP averages, Haslam leads the race by about 23 points.  There is no reason to believe that Haslam will lose this race and the Governor’s office in Tennessee will be in Republican control come January.

      In Congressional races, five of Tennessee’s nine districts are represented by Democrats.  Two of those seats- that of Bart Gordon in the 6th and John Tanner in the 8th- are open seats.  The aforementioned open 3rd district, vacated by Wamp in his ill-fated run for the Republican Governor’s nomination, is also open.  Of the three remaining Republican held districts, the incumbent is considered safe.  In the open 3rd district, which includes Chattanooga, Republican Charles Fleischman is considered a heavy favorite over his Democratic challenger John Wolfe.  In fact, this district has consistently supported Republican Presidential candidates and is safely Republican which probably was a deciding factor in Wamp’s decision to retire from the House and seek the Governor’s Office.

     In the two open Democratic-held districts, let’s look at the 6th first.  Located in middle Tennessee, the district is rated +13 Republican by the Cook Report PVI, which should favor a Republican candidate, especially this year.  And, in fact, Republican candidate Diane Black (yes, Howard Dean, there are viable and electable Republican women) leads her Democratic opponent Brett Carter by about 8 points and would appear to be headed to victory and the Republican Party picking up a House seat in Tennessee.  Interestingly, Gordon retires from the seat formerly held by Al Gore.  In the other open Democratic seat in the 8th district being vacated by John Tanner, Republican Stephen Fincher faces off against Roy Herron.  The 8th district is located in the northwestern part of the state and is rated +6 Republican.  Unlike their Democratic counterparts in other parts of the state, Democratic candidates are nowhere near liberal as their compatriots.  This is a conservative area of the state- 90% white with no major metropolitan cities.  In fact, Democrats have held the district since 1975.  The surprise announcement by Tanner that he would retire left the Democrats stunned and surprised.  Considered a virtual lock had he decided to run, the Democrats had to play catch up since Republican Steve Fincher had already announced his intentions to challenge Tanner  had, by the time of Tanner’s announcement, already raised over $300,000.  Since then, the Democratic Party has pumped money into Herron’s coffers in an attempt to retain the seat.  Still, given the fact that Fincher would seem the more viable candidate in a Republican-leaning district (they were one of two districts in Tennessee to support Gore, but favored McCain by 13 points) coupled with the sour taste associated with the Democratic Party label, this seat appears ripe for another Republican pick-up in Tennessee.

     The other competitive race is in the 4th District where incumbent Democrat Lincoln Davis faces a challenge from Scott DesJarlais.  This district is rated +14 Republican on the Cook Report PVI.  It is also a district that favored McCain by 30 points over Obama and Bush over Kerry (although the Bush-Gore race was very close).  Like the 8th district, it is over 90% white, rural with no major cities- all characteristics that should favor Republican candidates.  In minimal polling thus far, Davis retains a shrinking lead indicating some momentum for DesJarlais entering the general election.  Whether he can overcome a huge financing lead by Davis remains to be seen.  But the fact that Davis has out spent the Republican 20-1 yet the challenger remains competitive would spell trouble for Davis.  Since DesJarlais trails by about 7 points, I would add 2 points for top-down voting behavior (Republican Haslam will win the Governor’s race) and another two points for anti-incumbent sentiment, thus putting DesJarlais clearly within striking distance of Davis.  For his part, like most Democrats representing rural districts especially in the south, Davis’ voting record has to trend to the conservative side.  In fact, although he voted for the stimulus, he did vote against TARP, Obamacare, and cap-and-trade legislation.  This may be enough to keep him in office.

     The final analysis in Tennessee has to conclude that they will have a Republican governor.  Additionally, Republicans will successfully defend their House seats including the one in the open 3rd District.  They will pick up at least one seat- that of the open 6th district- and have a greater than even chance of picking up a second seat in the 8th district (that of John Tanner).  Should they pick up a seat in the 4th district and send Lincoln Davis packing, it would be additional gravy on the potatoes.  In either case, the race should be close and should be one to be watched closely on November 2nd.  Should Davis fall, the chances for the Democratic Party nationally will be worse than they anticipated (sorry, Joe Biden).  In a state that is basically so Republican that they rejected favorite-son Presidential candidate and erstwhile environmentalist, philanderer and bloviator/bore, Al Gore, Democrats stand to lose in Tennessee.