National Journal looks into why Dems ‘can’t get it together’ in Tennessee

Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen speaks at a rally in Nashville on Aug. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The National Journal is taking a deep dive into why Democrats have largely failed to make recent gains in Tennessee. The piece is written by reporting fellow Kirk Bado, who once interned in the state Capitol bureau for The Tennessean before going to graduate school.

The article examines why Democrats couldn’t make inroads in the 2016 election despite popular former Gov. Phil Bredesen being on the top of the ticket in the U.S. Senate race.

Bredesen failed to ride the blue wave, losing by 11 points as he carried only two counties, despite the same kinds of demographic changes that have helped other Southern states turn shades of purple. According to current projections, 30 percent of Tennesseans will be minorities by 2030. Given national trends of college-educated voters swinging further to the left, and Tennessee could be on its way to swing-state status; instead, its slate of federal officeholders are as red as those in Mississippi and Arkansas.

Democrats were right back where they started the decade: on the outside looking in.

Bado delves into Tennessee’s transition from conservative Democrats to conservative Republicans, dating back to favorite son Al Gore’s losing his home state in 2000 and the state income tax battles that occurred before and after that momentous election.

While a rightward trend since then should present an opportunity for Democrats, it hasn’t worked out that way, Bado writes:

In theory, Democrats should be well positioned to compete in Tennessee as Republicans shift further to the right. The population has increased by nearly 7 percent since 2010 on the backs of the rapid growth of the tech and health care industries, and a growing nonwhite population.

So what’s to be done? Activists like Charlane Oliver formed Equity Alliance want drastic action.

“The Democratic Party needs two things: They need a backbone and grow some balls,” she said. “Because the Republicans don’t fight fair, and you cannot bring a knife to a gunfight.”

State party chair Mary Mancini, who was elected to her third term in January, admits that her party has struggled to build a bench, failed to make Tennessee competitive, and acknowledges the dire straits the party faces. Yet she promised that Democrats are rebuilding in the state.

“We’re building a Democratic Party for the future, not just the elections coming up next November,” she said.

When asked what she will do differently to change Democratic fortunes, she seemed taken aback by the question, pausing for several silent seconds.

“That’s a really good question,” she finally said. “That’s something I’m going to have to think about a little bit.”

Read the full article here.

32 Responses to National Journal looks into why Dems ‘can’t get it together’ in Tennessee

  • James White says:

    The Main Enemy of the Tennessee Democratic Party is the National Democratic party. They are so far left they call themselves Social Democrats (Communists).

    • Leslie Parsley says:

      Your comment is moronic and especially offensive coming from anyone who supports a party that is in bed up to their “red necks” with Russian autocrats.

    • Michael Lottman says:

      The National Democratic Party is not “left” of anything. It continues to favor “moderate” or “centrist” or “establishment” candidates (which are not what is called for in these times, in my opinion), to play favorites, and to allow intra-party disputes go on forever, rather than strive for unity behind a candidate who can not only defeat Trump but who also will address issues such as public education, healthcare, climate change (an existential emergency), affordable housing, racism, inhumane immigration policy, extreme economic inequality, gun safety, rampant aggression by Trump’s dictator friends like Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu, the breakdown of the Western alliance, and nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea–none of which can wait another four years while Joe Biden tries to find the men’s room. And besides, no one calls themselves “Social Democrats (Communists)” and if there were such a label, the National Democratic Party would be the last to wear it. It remains an open question who is a greater hindrance to whom, but your analysis is not even close.

  • Stuart I. Anderson says:

    Thank the Lord for Mary Mancini and long may she reign. If not Mary, Charlane Oliver would be a great replacement. Now that’s a lady who knows how to turn a phrase!

  • Perry Aubric says:

    Stuart is wrong so consistently that I find myself surprised to agree with him. In this case, the sentiment expressed in his sarcastic comments about Mancini.

    She is a disaster, holds stubbornly onto the position of Democratic Party chair only because she has never made so much money in her life (and has a musician husband to support), and because the totally worthless Democratic Executive Committee somehow cannot recognize the need for change despite her unparalleled record of total failure in that job.

    As to the feckless Democrats overall, it is hard to understand how they have been impotent in the face of regressive, ignorant, racist, mean-spirited Republicanism, which has gained such a stranglehold on this state. Bredesen was a competent, moderate-to-conservative governor, had some solid accomplishments (as opposed to the spineless and forgettable Haslam), won every county in the state in his reelection to that job, yet lost to a mindless, intellectually inferior, hack ideologue like Marsha Blackburn by a sizeable margin.

    This state is as bad as Mississippi or Alabama in its political backwardness. I have no idea why the state and local Democrats have failed here or how to fix it. Perhaps a big personality. Probably best to turn to the sane wing of the Republican Party to transition to a more acceptable political landscape. Meanwhile, the Kerry (Eliminate Higher Education) Roberts of the world will continue the downward spiral.

  • Not that Stuart guy says:

    Interesting piece. A couple of thoughts:

    Bredesen’s loss had more to do with the nationalization of the race (“another vote for Chuck Shumer!”) than what’s happening in Tennessee with the state party or the demographics of who lives here.

    Demographics: A look at the results shows Democrats closing the gap in a number of high-growth suburban districts. A little more money and a little more GOTV and the Dems would have picked up a few more seats in the House this last time around. There is potential to break the supermajority, especially since the supermajority has shown there is nothing “super” about it.

    The party: Yes, I know it is hip and trendy in circles both left and right to blame Mary Mancini for everything wrong the the Democrats in TN, but it is more complex than that. A few examples: The 2018 coordinated campaign was a fiasco and Mancini had nothing to do with that. The lack of a bench was happening before Mancini took over. The lack of coordination with allied groups has been an issue in D politics in this state longer than I’ve been living in it. Sure, Mancini as party boss should take her fair share of the blame, but Dem’s problems in TN transcend any one person. And their revival will do so as well.

    • Perry Aubric says:

      I don’t blame Mancini for everything. The problems with the Tennessee Democrats are much bigger than that. I blame her for what she has control over. She is a totally incompetent failure in her job, she should be replaced, and that one element at least can be addressed.

    • Lenny says:

      “That’s a really good question,” she finally said. “That’s something I’m going to have to think about a little bit.”

      It’s not her first day on the job.

  • Silence Dogood says:

    I believe Leslie makes a great case for why Democrats get no traction in Tennessee. A lack of civility and tolerance for other viewpoints is poorly recieved outside the cities. Thank you!

    • Perry Aubric says:

      Yes, if you want to hear real civility and tolerance for other viewpoints, listen to Limbaugh or Hannity or any of the local conservative talkers, check out the comments section of just about any news site when Trump is criticized, talk to one of those intellectual giants at a Trump rally–or just review Trump’s tweets. When it comes to civility and tolerance, no one, just no one, can compare to the right wing. But I don’t mean that in a manner favorable to the right.

      • Silence Dogood says:

        Nice try, Perry. Keep it up folks. We cannot keep the super-majority without your local help. Those intolerant, deplorable Americans (rednecks, etc…..) are eating your lunch every single election in Tennessee.

        • Perry Aubric says:

          Yes, Silence, it’s sad that there are so many ignorant right wing sheep like you electing morons like Trump and Blackburn in this state.

  • Lord, we pray every day that the socialist “dimms” won’t make inroads effecting the lifestyle of Tennesseans. The socialists wish to return to the days of kings and queens and be the ones to make them so they will be able to rape the land and the workers of their wealth until everything is gone. Look at Russia, China, North Korea. etc. and anything else they touch.

    • Perry Aubric says:

      The only Socialist running for the Democratic nomination is Bernie Saunders, a blow-hard early-20th-Century-style commie who–wait for it–is not even a Democrat. For the life of me, I don’t understand why he is even allowed on the ballot in a Democratic Primary. He won’t be nominated. Even though the Russian trolls were working as hard for him in the 2016 primaries as they were for Trump in the general election, most Democrats just won’t ever, ever support him.

      Otherwise, Democrats are not Socialists (except for maybe about four irrelevant members of the House); but, Jerry, don’t let anyone interfere with what the folks at FOX and on talk radio are programming into your otherwise empty head. Your odd and fundamentally nonsensical comment has no connection with either history or current reality.

      Biden, for instance, is an old fashioned liberal Democrat who represented one of the most fundamentally corporate-oriented states in the nation for decades. He’s no Socialist, and no amount of screaming into a microphone by Hannity and Limbaugh will make him one.

      • Eddie White says:

        I think Biden will get the nomination and stands a great chance of being the next President. He may very well help the statewide candidates in Tennessee as well.

  • Donna Locke says:

    I will return to the oracle laundromat before the next big election and let you know what I observe. I saw Trump’s election there a year before it happened.

    I had a yard sale last weekend and discovered it was an oracle, too. I had already priced according to the real economy for folks.

    Some may have become too discouraged to vote. All is not as it seems.

    • Donna Locke says:

      I have to add that Bado’s article misses the realities in Tennessee and is delusional in the way that so much “liberal” conjecturing is. Like many Americans who are a mix of views, I look at the extremes our political landscape has become and pick the extreme most likely to move us back to balance.

  • Susan says:

    Democrats of 2019:
    1. Open Borders
    2. Ban guns and the 2nd Amendment
    3. Post-birth abortion
    4. Outlaw private health insurance/socialized healthcare
    5. Green New Deal/climate change insanity

    There wasn’t an elected Democrat in the state of Tennessee that would have publicly supported any of those issues 20 years ago, much less the state party. But gosh, I’m just as mystified as everyone else as to what the problem could possibly be.

    • Perry Aubric says:

      All Democrats are not the same Susan, as much as your talk radio puppet masters might like you to believe that.

      The Republicans on this board routinely parse the differences on the GOP scale, and rightly so. There are wide differences in what Democrats support and believe in, too

    • Perry Aubric says:

      And there is no such thing as “post birth abortion.” Liar.

      • Stuart I. Anderson says:

        Right you are Perry and it’s good to bring this to your friends’ attention. It’s called MURDER!

      • Susan says:

        Oh yeah, I guess if you take it to a quiet room and make it comfortable first it doesn’t count? You heard the nurse who testified before Congress yesterday? I’m not even interested in abortion as a political issue and you guys have managed to horrify me.

        The reality is that the crazy wackos on the far, far left have your party by the short hairs. And while there are a few moderates still in the party they are ducking for cover and have no political clout–which is the exact same amount of clout Bredesen would have had as Senator if he tried to be “moderate.” (wink wink) Personally, I wish you guys would get your act together. I’d love to give you 10% of the Republican state majority if it would get rid of the clown show we have now caused by Democrat voters being so disenchanted with their own party that they vote in mine.

    • Mimi says:

      Lord have mercy. It truly hurt my soul to hear those things said about my party—none of which are even remotely true. Not only do I not think that way, I don’t know of any other Democrats who do either. And I have Democratic friends all over this state at the highest levels. It goes to show however, that our biggest failing is that we have allowed Republicans to define us without fighting back. As far as I am concerned, I am tired of rolling over and playing dead. Because of the hatred and bigotry I have experienced in the last 2 1/2 years from Trumpers, I am devoting all my energies into making a difference in our state and national politics.

      • Eddie White says:

        Mimi, your party can’t even have a dinner with Andrew Jackson’ s name on it because you are so politically incorrect. You might start there.

  • Perry Aubric says:

    And I agree and have for decades that we need closed primaries.

  • LeeAnn says:

    Well, at the risk of being overly simplistic, most TN voters do not agree with the current trend in the Democratic party. I myself am very weary of the ‘health care/Medicare for all’ mantra. That’s all I heard from democratic candidates for state and U.S. offices in our area and they lost. Big. 75-35 or 80-20.

  • William R. Delzell says:

    The Democrats won’t win by becoming carbon-copy Tea Party Republicans or Republican-lite. I’ll tell what will happen if Tennessee Democrats attempt to be me-too conservative Republicans. Instead of getting any new conservative voters who will vote Republican anyway, the Democrats will simply lose their left-wing base who will either join a third party or play hard-to-get on election day with both parties. Why do you think that Bredesen running as a conservative last year did worse than Stacey Abrams in Georgia that same year running as a leftist? She came close to winning in Georgia against a racist Republican.

    Democrats need to look to new demographics in Tennessee. Go hunting where the ducks are!

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