O’Hara: Bredesen carried 10 biggest counties by cumulative 10 points. It didn’t matter.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Republican Senate nominee in Tennessee, speaks at a Farm Bureau event in Franklin on Aug. 9, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A guest column by former reporter Jim O’Hara:

Crow is always best eaten warm.

So, why didn’t Phil Bredesen’s performance in Tennessee’s top 10 counties with the most registered voters translate into a closer contest for the U.S. Senate?

The short and simple answer is that Marsha Blackburn swamped the Democrat by a 69-31 margin in the other 85 counties.  If Bredesen had managed even a 60-40 split, he would still have lost the election.

But the Associated Press wouldn’t have called it as early as 9:06 p.m. Central.

The top 10 counties – in terms of registered voters – are Blount, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Montgomery, Rutherford, Shelby, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson.

On Tuesday, they voted at the levels typical in recent elections and provided slightly more than 1.2 million votes, or 56% of the 2.2 million votes cast in the Senate race. Bredesen won the cumulative vote in those 10 counties by a margin of 677,226 to 559,898, or 55% to 45%.

He got 71% of the Davidson County vote and 66% in Shelby; he essentially ran even with Blackburn in Knox and Hamilton counties with 48% and 49% of the vote respectively.

Blackburn’s biggest margins in those top 10 counties came in Blount (64%), Sumner (63%), Williamson (59%), and Wilson (62%).

But of the 970,866 votes cast for the Senate race in the other 85 counties, she won going away with her 69% to 31% margin.

Was there an enthusiasm gap?  In Davidson County, about 59% of the registered voters came to the polls; in Shelby it was 51%.

In Blount County, about 57% of the voters went to the polls, and in Williamson it was close to 70%.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally posted on Facebook a Tennessee map, proclaiming the state a “Red Wall,” with only Davidson and Shelby blue.  And a Democratic Facebook friend of mine bemoaned the lack of a Beto O’Rourke in Tennessee

Maybe, there is no longer a center to contest in Tennessee, but the voting tea leaves seem more complicated then either would admit.  Can Republicans keep running up 70-30 margins?  How long before even those margins aren’t sufficient as the top 10 counties grow?


O’Hara covered politics for the The Tennessean in the 1980s.

24 Responses to O’Hara: Bredesen carried 10 biggest counties by cumulative 10 points. It didn’t matter.

  • Stuart I. Anderson says:

    I am so proud of my fellow Tennesseans! Phil Bredesen was about the best that the Democratic Party had and he spent a lot of money on Operation Deception trying to deceive the voters into thinking that though he was a lifelong Democrat that was just an accident, after all everybody has to be someplace, he really had no intention of voting like a Democrat in the Senate.

    In the end it wasn’t even close. Hopefully iwith fine Democratic candidates like Phil and Dean doing so poorly in what was a Democratic year it will be a long time before Democrats convince strong candidates to undertake the thankless expensive task of running statewide in Tennessee.

  • Bob says:

    Actually Shelby County is not growing. According to US Census estimates the county population has dropped each of the last 5 years.

    Most of the growth is occurring in Davidson Rutherford, Williamson, Wilson and Sumner Counties. These 5 counties account for 62% of all net migration. Of these 5, 4 counties are heavily Republican (60% – 67% for Bill Lee) and growing faster than Davidson, so your analysis is faulty.

    The big question for Democrats is why the collapse in rural Middle and West Tennessee in the last 10 -15 years where many rural counties were once competitive but now vote up to 80% Republican. Could it be that as the Democrat party moved further and further to the left, that the party ignored the concerns of rural voters? If so, Democrats need to address this concern or be content to be a minority party only relevant in the Urban core cities.

    • Jim O'Hara says:

      I essentially agree with your point. I think this election was about a continuing realignment in TN. What I don’t assume is that the realignment is destined to be Republican. Just as the realignment begun with Baker and Dunn took decades and didn’t necessarily have to end up with R hegemony. Agree Ds need to speak to a narrative beyond the 10.

      • Bob says:

        I guess where I disagree with your analysis is the assumption that the future growth will be Democratic and will eventually offset the huge Republican rural vote. Of the 10 fastest growing counties in Tennessee, 9 of them are strong Republican counties. For the Ds to be relevant in Tennessee, they need to speak to a narrative beyond Nashville and Memphis because they aren’t convincing the Republican suburban counties with their current narrative either.

  • Bob says:

    To further prove my earlier point, there is now only TWO Democrat representatives in the 132 members of the Tennessee Legislature outside of an Urban County and one of those is in a minority-majority drawn district.

  • Bob says:

    4 examples of Bredesen’s % of the vote in 2002 compared to 2018

    Benton 66.1% ; 32.5%
    Grundy 68.6%; 29.3%
    Houston 72.4%; 39.4%
    Lake 73.8%; 33.8%

    These are not small changes.

  • Tim Skow says:

    Silly ”SPIN” by Mr. O’Hara … trying to loop ”10 counties” into the analysis of Tuesday’s results. DEMs put up the VERY best they had to offer, funded Mr. Bredesen with over $12,000,000 of Chuck Schumer’s DEM PAC money as well as millions from other PACs and basically got his butt kicked. DEMs from outside TN will no longer consider TN a playing field for state wide races.

  • Silence Dogood says:

    ETSU was wrong? What happened to to 3-5% race the “MSM” polls tossed out? Bredesen is ahead polls? No one polls the non urban areas. Fake News breeds Fake Polls. A fool and their money is soon parted is the new motto for the MSM.

    • Erik Schelzig says:

      Let’s see: New York Times had Blackburn at +14, Fox at +9, NBC at +6, and CNN at +4. They may not have hit the nail on the head, but they all appeared to be pointing in the right direction.

      • Bob says:

        My general rule of thumb is to add 5% Republican points to the Real Clear Politics average which ended at 5.2% Blackburn advantage. So I predicted a 10% Blackburn win. She won by 11%. I also looked at the early vote turnout by county which supported my thoughts. Midterm elections are usually decided by the party that stays home. This year both parties came out and in Tennessee that favored Blackburn.

        I think there is a real issue with polling that consistently under polls Republicans. A 6% polling average difference is not within the polling margin of error which means there is some underlying error in the polling system as a whole. You can find outliers (in this case the Fox and NYTimes polls) that were close in this race, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

      • Silence Dogood says:

        The final margin was 11. They missed it. Again.

      • MarLE says:

        With Trump at +26 and Lee in a recent poll at +20…..I said weeks ago she’d win because she is Not a Democrat and do it by double digits because she Should be able to do half as well as Trump or Lee.

        • Silence Dogood says:

          You are a genius, MarLE! But you did not have an axe to grind or advertisements to sell. Just an honest review of the facts and no agenda should be the way all polls are conducted. Thanks! I will be looking for your 2020 predictions for Alexander’s replacement.

  • Mary Keller says:

    No one has mentioned the millions of $ spent by the Koch Brothers to spread fear and lies about Bredesen. Throw in the ignorance of Fox devotees who don’t want to know or care what is true or that candidates should have integrity and voila Marsha Blackburn. I sincerely believe the great citizens of TN will live to regret their choice but will probably never admit they were wrong.

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      But you will know that’s how they feel because you are a liberal Mary and liberals have this mysterious ability to read the minds of people they don’t even know.

    • Bob says:

      Whether it is Koch, Soros, Schumer or McConnell’s millions, at some point the money is no longer relevant and has a diminishing return of almost zero for the last incremental dollar. Most people I know don’t watch TV shows with political commercials or they tape the show and skip the commercials.

      Saying that the voters who didn’t vote the way you wanted them to are ignorant may speak more to your ignorance than theirs. But this is the Democrat party of today which has no interest in voters who are not part of the Urban Core. Maybe the better word is arrogance.

  • Teddy says:

    Any way one looks at it, Jim O’Hara’s analysis was flawed. In early voting the known Republicans cast 60% of the votes and the Democrats cast 40%. I was always going to be a very steep climb for liberal Governor Phil. He was never a moderate; always a liberal.

  • Donna Locke says:

    Well, you know those “pockets” on bib overalls are pretty big, Plazas and O’Hara. If you’ve ever seen any.

    Ninety-three . . . “pockets.”

  • Jim B. says:

    Just to be clear: Bredesen carried only three counties in the entire state — Davidson, Shelby, and Haywood.

  • Pingback: OFF THE RECORD: 'W' #Winning - Counties Hold Strong for Blackburn and Lee - Tennessee Star

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