Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tennessee U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

37 Days Until Election Day

Tennessee U.S. Senate

Status: Republican Open
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

When this midterm cycle began, Republicans did not expect that they would have to defend a Senate seat they currently held in reliably red Tennessee. That is the situation now though, after the seat became open and Democrats were able to recruit the last statewide successful politician of their party to make a political comeback. While polling is close, Republicans in Tennessee do enjoy a substantial infrastructure advantage and the nationalization of the Senate election will probably work in their favor here.

In perhaps the only U.S. Senate bright spot for the GOP in 2006, Republican Bob Corker was elected to the Senate, after having defeated two more conservative primary opponents, and then a highly touted rising Democrat political figure. He pledged he would serve no more than two terms, and late in 2017, kept his promise, although perhaps not without some second thoughts. Many politicians come to Washington promising to serve only a limited number of terms and then later say circumstances changed. Corker kept his word, while circumstances for him also changed.

By some accounts, the former businessman and Mayor of Chattanooga, before becoming a U.S. Senator, had considered running for President in 2016, but did not do so. He would see the nomination surprisingly go to Donald Trump, and there have been a lot of awkward moments between the two since. Corker was auditioned to a small extent for the Vice Presidency and then was mentioned as a potential Secretary of State after the election. Corker has alternated between expressing support for Trump on issues, to fighting with him online about his temperament and maturity. Needless to say, Trump backers turned on the establishment associated Corker and it looked like a primary challenge would be a real possibility if Corker sought a third term. He decided he would retire from the Senate, also deciding not to bother running for Governor of his state, and will be retiring to the private sector, where some speculate he could challenge Trump for the Presidency in GOP primaries.

The candidate considered most likely to give Corker a serious primary challenge was Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. She was first elected to the U.S. House in 2002 and spent some time attempting to rise in the GOP leadership ranks. Some even thought the former beauty pageant winner could one day wind up on a national ticket, although that might have had a lot to do with her looks.  When the incumbent opted out of the race, she declared herself in and immediately became the GOP front-runner. This was not without other Republicans being mentioned including retired NFL Quarterback Peyton Manning and the state's popular outgoing Governor Bill Haslam.

As Blackburn tied herself closely to Donald Trump as a Senate candidate, one primary opponent emerged in former Congressman Stephen Fincher, a former gospel singer with strong Evangelical ties. He had voluntarily left Congress after serving three terms between 2010 and 2016. Fincher found it hard to raise money though and compete with Blackburn among Republicans, even as polling data suggested she might have limited appeal statewide against her likely opponent. He dropped out of the race and encouraged Corker to change his mind and run again. Nonetheless, Blackburn took the August GOP primary, even as truck driver Aaron Pittigrew won 16 percent.

In recent cycles, Democrats have struggled to find credible nominees for Gubernatorial and U.S. Senate race and have in fact been embarrassed by the nominations of little known gadflies or extremists. With the 2018 cycle though expecting to be good for Democrats and with Blackburn having taken on the image of a robotic Trump mouthpiece of sorts, there was a push, which turned out successful to get former Governor Phil Bredesen into the race.

It is hard to imagine that Bredesen, who is turning 75 years old this year, and who last won election in 2006, when he won a second term as Governor, would have run against Corker or against Haslam or other potential GOP nominees. Blackburn, who is seeking to become the Volunteer State's first female U.S. Senator seems to have some political vulnerabilities as polls have shown a close race, with some putting Bredesen ahead. While the outgoing Senator Corker has officially endorsed Blackburn and donated money to her campaign, he has also said he will not campaign against or speak negatively about his friend Bredesen.

Clearly, Bredesen has some appeal to Republicans in the state with his ties to the business community and a perceivable moderate approach on issues. Blackburn has continued with the determination to support Trump on just about every manner, expecting that that will be enough for victory in a state he easily won, as other GOP nominees have. The candidates recently met in their first debate, and with most of American political talk focused on the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation this week, that can turn out to be an important turning point in this election as far as voter motivation and driving out the political base to the polls.

Bredesen has refused to commit to a position on the issue, saying he believes an FBI investigation was first warranted. Blackburn has pushed him to take a stance on the matter, while insisting she believes Judge Kavanaugh (while also asserting that women deserve to be heard) and that she strongly supports the Senate moving forward to confirm him. How Tennesseans feel about this controversy might very well decide the election and with that in mind, it is worth nothing that Bredesen has not committed to a position, and has tried to have it both ways.

As of today, this race seems to be a tossup, but might not turn out that way in the end. However, I can see scenarios where both candidates might win with a few points to spare. Turnout will matter a great deal, but if Republicans who are not exactly enthralled with Blackburn decide it is important for the Senate to stay in Republican hands, she will probably win. If not, the outcome should be considered an unnecessary political disaster for Republicans, especially if it were to be the one race that might lose them the Senate. I tend to think that in the end, enough Republicans will "come home" in these highly polarized times to give Blackburn a win.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 
19 D (9 Safe, 5 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
  8 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 5Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
42 D (23 holdovers, 9 Safe, 5 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
50 R (42 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 5 Tossup)


At 12:02 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Bredesen will work hard to keep it close, but Blackburn will survive: (51% to 49%).


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