A list of the most interesting TN legislative races

Tennessee’s most interesting contests for seats in the Tennessee General Assembly on Nov. 8 with some unreliable predictions:

-Senate District 20, where incumbent Sen. Steve Dickerson and his allies – most notably the Senate Republican Caucus – have disclosed a total of more than $1.4 million in spending this year to defend a seat that’s the most balanced Senate district in the state insofar as presumed partisan preferences go.  (That includes about $185,000 spent by Dickerson prior to winning his primary in August; he’s self-funded a total of $285,645.) That’s roughly ten times the amount spent by Democratic challenger Erin Coleman, an Army veteran and businesswoman. The money was spent with good reason: Without it, Dickerson could well have lost; with it he is probably the favorite.

-House District 13, Knox County, has a rematch between Republican Rep. Eddie Smith and former Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson. Smith won by 182 votes in 2014 and it’ll be close this time. The lay of the political landscape – Donald Trump being a factor – arguably gave Johnson an edge going in but Republicans have rushed to help Smith enjoy a big financial advantage. The House Republican Caucus, for the leading example, spent $200,000 on helping Smith by bashing Johnson and Gov. Bill Haslam’s PAC financed $15,000 worth of radio ads. The state Republican party has also pitched in (though the  GOP disclosure makes it difficult to determine a dollar amount). The Tennessee Journal rates the race a tossup. I just tossed a coin and, contrary to a similar toss a couple of weeks ago, it came up in Smith’s favor.

-House District 56, where House Speaker Beth Harwell trounced Democrat Chris Moth in 2014, perhaps almost yawning in the process and leaving her million-dollar reelection fund virtually untouched. Times have changed and Harwell, heaving dealt with an array of controversies since then, has dipped into her war chest to the tune of $250,000 this time around, convinced Haslam to join her in door-to-door campaigning and otherwise displayed political anxiety symptoms. The state Democratic party is apparently thinking along the same lines, parting with $20,000 of scarce party money to help Moth, who’s otherwise been mostly dependent on self-funding. Unseating the speaker at the ballot box is a Democratic daydream and a GOP establishment nightmare, neither founded in reality – right? But the margin of victory might have some impact on Harwell’s campaign against Rep. Jimmy Matlock for reelection as speaker of the House after the election and/or on Harwell deciding whether to try and become the state’s first woman governor in 2018.

–House District 41, where veteran Democratic Rep. John Mark Windle is being outspent about 4-to-1 by Republican challenger Ed Butler. It appears Windle, a lawyer and National Guard officer who spent time in Iraq, is not being targeted by the state GOP headquarters, though Butler has drawn support from several Republican legislators and special interest groups such as the pro-voucher Tennessee Federation for Children. Windle has relied on self-funding, personal ties in the four Upper Cumberland counties comprising the district and a reputation as a generally conservative fellow on most issues (his only PAC donation is a $250 gift from the National Rifle Association). That’s probably enough to give Windle another term.

–House District 43, where freshman Democratic Rep. Kevin Dunlap of Sparta won his first term by just 54 votes and would have thus seemed a logical target for GOP operatives. But he’s been rated the legislature’s most conservative Democrat and his Republican opponent, Paul Sherrell, seems from a distance to have inspired rather lukewarm enthusiasm in GOP donor circles. Dunlap has spent about $50,000 through Oct. 29; Sherrell less than $20,000. Barring Trump coattails benefiting Sherrell bigtime in the rural district or a late surge of outside interest spending, it appears Dunlap is headed toward a second term.

— Republicans are likely to gain a House seat in District 69, where veteran Democratic Rep. David Shepard of Dickson barely survived – by 15 votes – a challenge from Republican Michael Curcio in 2014. Shepard is retiring and Curcio has a huge money advantage over Democratic nominee Dustin Evans, a deputy sheriff, for his second try. (He’s also said nice things about Shepard.)

– In House District 74, where Republican Rep. Jay Reedy of Erin defeated veteran Democratic Rep. John Tidwell by about 500 votes in 2014, the freshman lawmaker is facing a challenge this year from Democrat Andy Porch, an insurance agent. Geographic politics are arguably involved since Reedy is from Houston County and Porch from Humphreys County, both included in the district along with a piece of Montgomery County. Along with Johnson in District 13, Porch may be the Democrats’ best hope for a pickup seat – though Republicans have risen to his defense with much financial help.

–Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, the only Republican incumbent senator other than Dickerson with a remotely competitive race, is a solid favorite over Democrat Khristy Wilkerson. He’s spent far more – even counting $46,000 worth of positive ads for Wilkerson spent by an outside group. A noteable feature of the campaign was a Gardenhire mailer attacking Wilkerson for having “Detroit values” – she’s a native of the Michigan city – that led to the Hamilton County Black Caucus attacking Gardenhire for “racially-coed” messaging.

– House District 36, where Republican incumbent Rep. Dennis Powers faces Bob Fannon, a pharmacist and longtime LaFollette city councilman who calls himself a conservative “Southern Democrat” – rather like Windle and Dunlap in nearby districts. Fannon is largely self-financed ($25,000 in loans) and Powers has outspent him about 2-to-1, so he should be safe. But the district has a significant remnant population of Democrat-leaning voters and just might be one of those places where something strange happens in this strange political year.

Along those lines, Democrats fielded candidates this year in a couple dozen districts where a member of the party is about as likely to be struck by lightning as to be elected to the General Assembly. Still, lightning does strike every now and then – and maybe there are clouds in the GOP blue (or red?) political sky here and there.

Some Republicans who appear concerned enough to at least put up lightning rods include House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, Sam Whitson of Franklin (the GOP nominee who defeated Jeremy Durham in the primary), Dawn White of Murfreesboro.

Update/Note: The Nashville Scene provides a fine example of Democratic dreaming of a lightning strike in an interesting piece on House District 39, where incumbent Republican Rep. David Alexander faces Democrat Nancy Silvertooth.

One Response to A list of the most interesting TN legislative races

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Posts and Opinions about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.