VOL. 133 | NO. 72 | Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Republicans Pare Tennessee Senate Primary As Bredesen-Blackburn Race Shapes Up
By Bill Dries
The race for the U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee got much closer to becoming the two-candidate contest Democratic and Republican leaders have already decided it is.
The Tennessee Republican Party’s executive committee, meeting in Nashville Saturday, pared the field of 10 contenders who filed by the April 5 deadline for the August primary to three. Seven contenders were dropped from the primary ballot by the party’s leadership for not being “bona fide” Republicans based on their recent voting record.
The public record doesn’t show who someone voted for ,but it does show which primary they voted in.
The seven candidates dropped from the Republican primary were David Anderson, Rashard Lamar Coker, Larry Crim, Tommy Hay, Theresa Honeycutt, J. Darrell Lynn and Rolando Toyos.
That leaves U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Jim Elkins of Chattanooga and Aaron L. Pettigrew of Murfreesboro.
Blackburn is heavily favored in the August primary.
On the Democratic side, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has said he is already running a general election campaign despite the presence of Gary Davis of Nashville and John Wolfe of Chattanooga in the August Democratic primary.
“One of the things that made this practical for me to do was having a team around that had been part of the campaign in 2002 and 2006 and the administration,” Bredesen said in Memphis last week of his two successful campaigns for governor. “You can start building around that.”
After Memphis, he was in Columbia for its annual Mule Day festivities. Mule Day is a tradition of the race for Tennessee governor.
“I’ll be at Mule Day,” Bredesen said as he talked about the differences in running for governor and the Senate. “It’s different in that the issues tend to be a little different. It’s obviously more about the national issues. … The fundraising is a little more intense. Part of that is just that campaigns get more expensive every year. There’s more involved in 2018 than there was in 2002.”
He sees the electorate’s view of the Democratic Party as changed.
“People are definitely not looking to the Democratic Party to solve their problems the way they were 15 or 20 years ago,” Bredesen said. “Some of them were for me then. Some of them weren’t for me. They haven’t changed. It’s just their notion of who’s going to be the one who stands up for them has maybe changed.”
Blackburn has allied herself closely with President Donald Trump in her campaign, insisting that the 2018 midterm elections are arguably as important to her brand of conservatism as Trump’s election was in 2016.
But Bredesen has said he won’t be running against Trump. His television ads show him saying he will work with Trump if he thinks Trump has a good idea and he won’t if he doesn’t.
Bredesen said it reflects his political history and a change in the Democratic base since his time as governor.
“It’s clear that the national Democratic Party is not a brand that is attractive in Tennessee right now, just to be honest with you,” he said. “That’s worked OK for me because while I’m a Democrat obviously, in my time in the office there were almost uncountable times where I went contrary to the national Democratic mantra. People see me as a person who is independent minded.”
The Democratic National Committee will put a lot of money, as will the Republican National Committee, into Tennessee with more money from other sources going directly to the Tennessee Senate contest that could determine whether Republicans retain their narrow majority or the Senate goes to a Democratic majority.
“We’re investing to build that infrastructure,” Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said of DNC money that goes to the Tennessee Democratic Party and not Bredesen’s campaign. “Zero percent of our money goes into television. It’s all about building infrastructure so that candidates up and down the ballot can win.”
The races for governor and Senate are expected to drive voter turnout, which leaders of both parties hope translates to votes for their nominees in other state and local races.
“Not everyone’s going to win, but everyone is going to compete hard,” Perez said. “That’s going to drive up voter turnout.”
Perez said he isn’t concerned by Bredesen’s decision to avoid anti-Trump rhetoric, even as he and other Democrats play up Blackburn’s ties to Trump.
“We understand that candidates know their jurisdictions best. And we don’t simply talk about what we abhor about Donald Trump,” Perez said during a visit to Memphis last week. “We talk about what we’re for.”
He also talked of “far right Republican leaders” in the Tennessee Legislature who he says undid Bredesen’s work on health care as governor.
Bredesen was an early and vocal critic of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. He also trimmed the rolls of TennCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, during his tenure as governor in a move that was controversial among the Democratic base.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is running in the Democratic primary for governor on the August ballot, has been vocal in calling the Republican-led Legislature’s decision not to pass Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Medicaid expansion proposal its worst mistake, and one they should pay for with voters.