Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Tennessee

Tennessee neither gains nor loses a seat in the House, but because of population shifts in the state, the political power has moved to the central regions. Also, for the first time since Reconstruction, the GOP controls the redistricting process. In terms of needs, one first looks at the ideal population count for each district within a state. The 7th and 9th districts show the greatest deviation from that ideal population. So it stands to reason that the most impacted incumbents are Republicans Marsha Blackburn in the 7th and Democrat Steve Cohen in the 9th. The 7th is over populated while the 9th needs population. Also, as a black majority district, any decision to weaken Cohen’s hold on the area must pass muster under the VRA. The 7th could b adjusted by shedding those parts of Memphis currently in the district, which would help the GOP. Additionally, by shoring up Cohen, Steve Fincher in the 8th could benefit if he cedes Democratic precincts in his district to Cohen’s 9th District. In the end, it eventually boils down to Democrat Jim Cooper, who represents the Nashville area.

But first, there is a Senate race as Republican incumbent Bob Corker seeks reelection. The former mayor of Chattanooga currently has no declared Democratic opponents. Although Corker may face a primary challenge, no opponents are really considered serious threats. However, in polling of likely Republican voters, on a generic basis, 43% of voters stated they would prefer a more conservative candidate to Corker’s 38% preference. In order for any Democrat to prevail against Corker, since Tennessee is a conservative state, they would have to run to the right of Corker (fat chance), or Corker would have to be scandal-ridden to lose. Although there are conservative options to him, they come from within his party and to the extent that they exist, no one has stepped forward as of yet.

However, there are some potential Democratic candidates starting with former representative John Tanner. A former leader of the Blue Dog Democrats, at one point there were serious rumors that he may switch parties, although he later dismissed them. State senator Roy Herron, who lost his bid to succeed Tanner in the 8th District in 2010, is also a possibility based upon that 2010 effort. Bart Gordon may be considered too liberal for the voters of Tennessee on a statewide basis. An intriguing choice would be Lincoln Davis, a former representative, who remains fairly popular. By Tennessee standards, he is considered a moderate Democrat, but by national standards he would be considered a conservative Democrat. Regardless of who steps forward, if anyone, it would appear the seat is safely in the hands of Corker.

As far as presidential politics is concerned, it is a safe bet that if they failed to vote for favorite son Al Gore in 2000, they will not support Obama in 2012. Nor will he come close. Although he may carry some traditional Democratic urban areas, the eventual nominee will win their 11 electoral votes.

At the House level, because of the shift of political power to central Tennessee, the final scenarios are hard to discuss since the final plans have not been completed. But it centers around two dynamics- what to do about the Nashville-based 5th District, and the political aspirations of Bill Ketron.

Lets first look at the easy districts. Republicans Phil Roe and Jim Duncan are safe, as is Chuck Fleischmann in the southeast section of the state. As mentioned earlier, Steve Cohen’s 9th District needs to gain population and that means the 7th will lose certain parts of Memphis to the 9th. While that would simultaneously help Republicans Diane Black and Steve Fincher, it would also bolster Cohen.

That leaves the 4th, 5th, and 6th Districts. One goal of the Republican-led legislature is to shore up Diane Black in the 6th and that can be done by removing some of the central Tennessee counties. Unfortunately, that would then cause Cooper’s 5th District to shift eastward and pick up some more Democratic areas. Although that would make any Republican’s job tougher in an attempt to unseat him, state house speaker Beth Harwell has been mentioned as a good candidate to run against Cooper. This then creates what amounts to a non-problem in the 4th District. If Rutherford City is drawn into that district, then Bill Ketron would likely enter the race and set up a primary battle between Ketron and Republican incumbent Scott Desjarlais. The Democrats would then likely run state senator Eric Stewart with the GOP eventually prevailing in November, assuming Ketron and Desjarlais do not inflict heavy damage on each other. The bottom line is that shoring Blackburn and Black, they inadvertently also have to strengthen Cooper and expose Desjarlais to a primary battle. The result would be no change in the party make up of their congressional delegation, but they would probably have to sacrifice an incumbent along the way to solidify their political future.

Running totals thus far:
Obama with 99 electoral votes to 157 for GOP nominee;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 3 Senate seats;
Net loss of 7 House seats.

Next: Kentucky