Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Will Huge Field of Candidates Change Tennesee’s Political Landscape?

In Governor, House, Senate on April 8, 2014 at 10:50 am

With 30 states now having completed the process of officially certifying their candidates for the 2014 general election, a large number of Tennessee political activists have stepped forward to run for federal and major statewide office.

No fewer than 17 individuals have entered the governor’s race to face first term Tennessee chief executive Bill Haslam (R). Comprising the group are three minor Republican primary challengers to the governor, seven Democrats, and an additional seven minor party and Independent candidates. None of the individuals, however, appear politically strong, and Gov. Haslam should cruise to re-election.

In the Senate race, an even greater number of people (23) have filed to challenge two-term incumbent, former governor, and ex-presidential candidate Lamar Alexander (R). Eight Republicans, including state Rep. Joe Carr, will be on the Aug. 7 primary ballot opposing the senator. With no run-off in Tennessee, it will be difficult to see any scenario where Alexander fails to place first atop this crowded field of candidates. Four Democrats are in the race, in addition to 11 minor party and Independent candidates. Like Gov. Haslam, Sen. Alexander should have little trouble in winning another term in November.

All nine Volunteer State US House members are seeking re-election and the main competition for any of them is likely to come in specific nomination contests. All but Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN-1) has major party general election opposition, and only one, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN-5), avoids a primary challenge.

The most serious intra-party challenges are to sophomore Republican representatives Charles Fleischmann (R-TN-3) and Scott DesJarlais (R-TN-4), while veteran Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN-9) is the only Democrat facing a credible primary opponent.

In the Chattanooga-anchored 3rd District, Rep. Fleischmann again faces Weston Wamp, the son of former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN-3). The congressman was renominated in 2012 with just 39 percent of the vote, repelling both businessman Scottie Mayfield (31 percent) and Wamp (29 percent). With Mayfield not running again and publicly endorsing the congressman, Fleischmann is in stronger political position than he was at this time before the previous election. He is favored to win again.

The neighboring 4th District may produce a different result, however, as scandal-tainted Rep. DesJarlais faces six Republican challengers, including state Sen. Jim Tracy. Just before the 2012 general election, the congressman’s extra-marital affairs from the time he was practicing medicine came into public view. He still went on to win a 55-45 percent general election victory, but the 2014 primary is likely to be a more difficult test – one that he will survive only by seeing a virtual even split amongst his top challengers thus allowing him to win with a small plurality. DesJarlais is one of the few incumbent House members who must be rated as an underdog in his fight for re-election.

In the Memphis district, Rep. Cohen faces rising speculation that this could be a more competitive race than the congressman has faced in recent past electoral contests. Attorney Ricky Wilkins (D), who is an African American, has the financial wherewithal to put forth a credible effort, but the congressman has continued to win a district that has a greater than 60 percent African-American population. Cohen first won the seat when then-Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN-9) ran for the Senate in 2006. Several black candidates split the African-American vote, thus allowing Cohen to claim the party nomination with a small plurality of the vote. The congressman has since been able to build a diverse coalition sufficient to keep re-electing him. If Wilkins can unify the black community, he will have a chance to unseat Cohen. If not, the incumbent will be headed back to Washington for a fifth term.

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