Tennessee Republicans on Thursday will hold a nine-way primary in a redrawn congressional district in Nashville that they hope to flip, while Democrats will choose their gubernatorial nominee in what could be a historic effort to upend the establishment. GOP chairman.
Two of the three Democratic candidates for governor would be the state’s first Black Democratic candidates for the office. The third is a doctor running for political office for the first time, spurred by Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s seamless response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lee is running unopposed and would have a strong advantage in a general election in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2006.
Redrawn congressional districts helped put Tennessee among the states where Republicans hope to flip a seat in a push to regain control of the U.S. House, providing the main drama in Tennessee’s primary on Thursday. Tennessee holds its only national election that day.
Nashville’s 5th Congressional District drew a lot of Republican interest after GOP state lawmakers carved Democratic-leaning Nashville into three districts, favoring their party in every seat. Longtime 5th District incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper has decided to retire, saying there was “no way” he could win re-election under the new redistricting maps. The new district favored Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Joe Biden by 12 percentage points in 2020.
In the other two Nashville-area precincts, Republican incumbents have no primary challengers. The new maps weight their territories in their favor.
In the 5th, state Sen. Heidi Campbell is unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face the Republican winner in November. Two Democrats face off in the new 6th District, which includes more than Nashville, where Republican U.S. Rep. John Rose has a huge fundraising advantage.
There is also a full slate of state legislative primary races. Additionally, Thursday is general election night for several local contests. The highlight of those is in Shelby County — which includes Memphis — where Republican District Attorney Amy Weirich is facing a challenge from Democratic civil rights attorney Steven Mulroy.
At least in Nashville, anyone who turns on a television is more likely to see ads for a Republican candidate for the 5th Congressional District than a candidate for anything else.
Rival television attacks — waged mostly by generic outside groups with mega-wealthy donors — are trying to cast doubt on the conservative resumes of the top three Republican fund-raising candidates: former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, retired Brig. Tennessee National Guard. Gen. Kurt Winstead and Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles.
Fellow GOP candidate Jeff Beierlein, who flew Blackhawk helicopters in the military, bought TV ad time to condemn the mudslinging. Other candidates in the race include Geni Batchelor, a retired small business owner. former state legislator Tres Wittum; Natisha Brooks, who runs a home-school academy; Timothy Lee, a paramedic; and Stuart Parks, a real estate entrepreneur.
The election marks the first time voters have a say in a seat that has endured months of Republican political gerrymandering.
Political infighting over the carefully drawn district — which straddles six counties — led the state GOP to drop three candidates from the ballot, including Trump’s pick, former State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus. One of the candidates, video producer Robby Starbuck, is attempting a write-in campaign.
The skipper, meanwhile, can take it easy on the first night. He fended off a Republican challenge. The last governor to enjoy an unopposed primary was Democratic Gov. Ned McWherter in 1990, said Tennessee legislative historian Eddie Wicks.
Democrats will decide who will face Lee in November. Memphis City Council Member JB Smiley Jr. or Memphis community advocate Carnita Atwater would be the first Black Democratic candidate for governor in state history. Critical care physician Jason Martin, who lives in Nashville, joined the fight as a prominent critic of Lee’s pandemic response. Martin outspent the next highest fundraiser, Smiley.
Weeks said he could not find an African-American candidate for governor, Democrat or Republican, in the state’s history. However, he noted that in 1876, William Yardley, an African-American Knoxville official who was later elected to the county court, ran as an independent when the Republican Party refused to nominate a gubernatorial candidate. Democratic Governor James Davis Porter won re-election that year.
Tennessee only had a Black Democratic candidate for US Senate in 2020.
Lee, meanwhile, defeated a Democratic challenger by 21 percentage points in 2018. He goes into November with a huge fundraising advantage and incumbency.