Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Tennessee Today

In House, Senate on August 7, 2014 at 7:03 pm

The nation’s only Thursday primary occurs today with several races on tap for the Republicans. Democrats will have a relatively quiet night.

Senate

Two-term senator and former presidential candidate Lamar Alexander (R) faces a total of six Republican challengers, two of whom have raised in the neighborhood of $1.5 to $2 million apiece for their respective campaigns. State Rep. Joe Carr and self-funding physician George Flinn are the senator’s top challengers, but the fact that the anti-Alexander vote will be split among six GOP candidates goes a long way to ensuring that the senator will win re-nomination. Alexander’s other key structural advantage is that Tennessee is the only southern state that does not employ a run-off system. Therefore, whoever garners the most votes this evening, regardless of percentage, wins the party nomination.

Interest increased in this race after Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel out-polled Sen. Thad Cochran in their state’s June 3 Republican primary, but dissipated when the senator scored a come-from-behind victory in the June 24 run-off. Tea Party activists around the country believed that “Alexander was next” when they thought that Cochran was headed for defeat.

Expect Sen. Alexander, who has spent over $1.5 million in the last few weeks of the campaign, and more than $5 million overall, to exceed 50 percent but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fall below 60 percent. Anything over 60 would be considered a major victory. Once clearing this primary, Sen. Alexander is a lock for the general election.

House

Though all US House incumbents but Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN-5) have primary opposition, five of the races are not particularly serious. Expect Reps. Phil Roe (R-TN-1), Jimmy Duncan (R-TN-2), Diane Black (R-TN-6), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-7), and Stephen Fincher (R-TN-8) to score strong renomination victories.

TN-3

The Chattanooga congressional seat has seen Republican unrest since Rep. Zach Wamp (R) left the district to run unsuccessfully for governor in 2010. Attorney Charles Fleischmann won a split Republican primary that year, scoring a 1,415 vote win over his closest opponent in a 10-candidate campaign. He went on to score an easy 57-28 percent victory in the general election.

Two years ago, the congressman faced a primary challenge from two strong candidates, prominent businessman Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp, son of the former representative. Fleischmann only took 39 percent of the vote, but it was enough to win the fractured primary.

Tonight, Fleischmann again faces Weston Wamp, but this time Mayfield is backing the congressman. Controversy has arisen in this race involving Wamp when he secretly recorded a personal conversation with Mayfield, which is now the subject of a Fleischmann television ad. Wamp is credited with running a better race this year than in 2012, but he is also moderating his image in an attempt to attract cross-over Democratic votes.

Rep. Fleischmann is favored to win, and a stronger victory will help him solidify this district for the future.

TN-4

The Republican race ostensibly between embattled Rep. Scott DesJarlais and state Sen. Jim Tracy could be the most interesting finish of the night. DesJarlais, tarred with a sex scandal right before the 2012 election and now suffering from throat cancer, was thought to be a sure loser in this primary election but has battled back into contention.

Sen. Tracy has raised far more money than the tainted incumbent but, with six challengers all splitting the anti-DesJarlais vote, polling now suggests that the incumbent could in fact survive. Tracy going negative in the closing weeks also tells us that his polling data is not what the top challenger wants.

Early in the cycle, Sen. Tracy was thought to be a sure winner. He still may prevail, but the road to Washington has been much bumpier than first thought. In 2010, Tracy lost a close three-way contest in the 6th District that first elected current Rep. Diane Black (R).

TN-9

With an African-American population topping 60 percent, Anglo Rep. Steve Cohen has proven himself to be a master politician. Holding onto the seat for four terms, after what was a fluke win in 2006 when so many black candidates split the vote, Cohen now faces attorney Ricky Wilkins and Baptist pastor Isaac Richmond in this center-city Memphis district.

Wilkins is the congressman’s main opponent, but he has failed to catch on, raising a bit more than $260,000. Pastor Richmond has negligible resources. Therefore, in what has been a quieter campaign than first believed, expect the congressman to again come through in tonight’s primary election. He will then go on to easily win a fifth term in November.

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