VOL. 129 | NO. 218 | Friday, November 7, 2014
By Bill Dries
The midterm election saw contrasting issues and candidates, particularly in Tennessee where an incumbent governor and U.S. senator were both re-elected while four amendments to the state Constitution were passed.
Gov. Bill Haslam addresses supporters at his final 2014 campaign stop at Whimsy Cookie Co. in Memphis. Haslam won easily in an election that featured a ballot full of contrasting issues and candidates.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
There were no surprises in the re-elections of Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Nationally, Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate in a series of defeats that saw the GOP take over five Democratic-held seats. And while that swing of power nationally is important to note, in Tennessee the news was focused more on ballot questions dealing with abortion, alcohol, games of chance, judicial selections and a state income tax.
The questions and candidates on the Nov. 4 ballot had an uneasy coexistence, touching on just about every “third rail” issue a local or statewide candidate typically tries to avoid, at least in that combination in their quest for election.
Yet, the ballot questions were decided by voters who otherwise might have been turned off by the midterm-centric theories in which their backyard is a speck on a larger battle map of the nation.
They also brought voters who came specifically to vote on the amendments and referendums more than the other races.
Of the four proposed amendments to the Tennessee Constitution, the one that drew the most Shelby County voters was the abortion amendment, with 186,609 voters by the unofficial results. That was followed by the judicial selection amendment and the income tax ban.
By contrast, there were 176,891 voters on the amendment that gives veterans organizations the ability to use games of chance – bingo – as fundraisers.
In Shelby County, 117,372 people cast a “no” vote on the abortion amendment, which was more votes cast for any one candidate or ballot question.
A total of 185,374 Shelby Countians voted for governor in a one-sided race in which Haslam carried the county over token Democratic opposition in the form of nominee Charles Brown. The turnout is fewer than voted on the abortion amendment and just 18 more than voted on the judicial selection amendment.
The top turnout of the night in Shelby County was in the U.S. Senate race between Alexander and Democratic challenger Gordon Ball, with a total of 187,012 votes.
Alexander carried Shelby County with less than 50 percent of the vote in the unofficial results that show a 1,517-vote margin locally.
Ball spent a lot of time campaigning in the largest blue dot on the political map of Tennessee. But his strategy was to seek out the tea party opposition to Alexander in the August primary, playing up his opposition to Common Core state education standards and accusing Alexander of favoring immigration amnesty.
Alexander noted at the outset that he has always carried Shelby County in the 40-year arc of a political career that has now spanned six campaigns for statewide office, three for governor and three for Senate.
He linked Ball to President Barack Obama every chance he got, especially on the Affordable Care Act, and it stuck.
Toward the end of the campaign, Alexander said he wasn’t sure if this would be his last run for elected office.
He noted that his mentor, the late U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, ran for and was elected to three terms in the Senate and became Senate majority leader. The prospect of a Republican majority in the Senate with Tuesday’s results was also prominent in his bid for a third six-year term.
“I think we have a large majority in Tennessee who would like to see the country go in a different direction,” Alexander said during early voting. “And the argument I’m making is the single best way to do that is to elect a new majority in the United States Senate with me as a part of it.”
Haslam viewed the role of his statewide campaign as helping Republican turnout in other races, including Alexander’s. He also came out in support of all four constitutional amendments.
He campaigned heavily for the judicial selection amendment after appointing more than two dozen judges in his first term of office across procedural changes that included the sunset of legislation creating a judicial nominating commission and its resurrection through an executive order by Haslam.
Haslam also deflected a lot of questions about what his second-term relationship will be like with the Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
And he started answering four years of “what ifs” about possible proposals from the Republican supermajorities by saying he should be judged by what becomes law and not by what is proposed but doesn’t reach his desk for his signature.
Although the Senate race turnout in Shelby County was higher than the race for governor, Haslam was the top vote-getter in the county, with 107,018 votes. That compares with 90,355 for Alexander, 88,838 for Ball and 87,308 for U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in a district that takes in most of Shelby County. U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, whose West Tennessee district includes a small portion of East Memphis and eastern Shelby County, garnered 52,344 votes in Shelby County.