Can The Democrats Win Statewide In Tennessee?

The fate of the Senate, and whether we have a Senate Majority Leader McConnell or Schumer may fall into the hands of the people of Tennessee.

It has been nearly three decades since a Democrat was elected to the Senate from the state of Tennessee, the last time was in 1990 when then Senator Al Gore won his reelection campaign. So what makes this year different? Why could a Democrat finally win in, traditionally, ruby red Tennessee?

The answer is the candidates running.

First, the Democrats picked the only candidate that stood a chance in this state, former Governor Phil Bredesen. Bredesen is the last Democrat to win a statewide election in the state, and he did so convincingly. He won his gubernatorial election in 2006 by over 700,000 votes and managed to win every single county in the state. That is unprecedented for any candidate in any state, much less a Democrat in Tennessee.

Picture of the 2006 Gubernatorial Race by county.

Another massive advantage that Bredesen has is his name recognition. Due to this race being for an open seat (the current holder of this seat is not running) name recognition is huge, especially in an off year election. Being the only candidate running to have ever run a statewide campaign in Tennessee he already has support across the state, and has the political infrastructure and experience to run a well-oiled, high stakes campaign. Another helpful attribute that Bredesen has is that he is not as progressive as many other democrats. He has not come out in favor of single-payer healthcare nor does he support the abolition of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as many other democrats have done. All of these factors are helping him as he faces a staunch Trump Supporter, Representative Marsh Blackburn.

Blackburn has been a United States Representative since 2003 and, as seems to be the most important thing in Republican circles, has the complete endorsement of the President. Trump has already been to Tennessee and campaigned for Blackburn, whereas the current Republican Senator from the state, Bob Corker, has not endorsed her and says she “has an uphill battle” to win in November. The historical trends of the state, not having voted for a Democrat for President since 1996, and voting for Trump by nearly 30 points, are all natural advantages for her campaign.

That being said, recent polling from Vox is not a good sign for Blackburn. Her favorability/un-favorability rating is 38/37 respectively and the poll shows her losing by 2 points to Bredesen. That is in stark contrast to the generic ballot in that very same poll favoring Republicans over Democrats by 56-44. Another recent poll has her down by 5 points to Bredesen.

Vox poll from 9/16-9/18

All in all, a state that only became competitive when Senator Corker announced his retirement is now, arguably, a favorite for the Democrats (even though 538 has his chances of winning at about 40%). The once unforeseeable reality could be explained by a very popular Democratic candidate, a relatively unpopular Republican candidate, increased enthusiasm from democrats, and an unliked President.

This race has become only another headache for Senate Republicans as they see their chances of maintaining control in the Senate dwindle, as other reliable states like Texas (which will be discussed next week), and Arizona are looking more and more unpredictable.