O’Hara: The hill might no longer be quite as steep for Bredesen

Democratic candidate and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, left, speaks during the 2018 Tennessee U.S. Senate Debate with Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn at The University of Tennessee Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, Pool)

A guest column from former reporter Jim O’Hara:

“Follow the money” is still a pretty good political maxim. Republican and Democratic PACs continued to spend heavily in the Phil Bredesen-Marsha Blackburn U.S. Senate race  despite recent polls showing a Blackburn lead (totals this week alone: $5.9 million for her, $7.9 million for him).

Reviewing the recently completed statewide early voting, in fact, suggests a race to the finish. An earlier column argued for the outsized role in Tennessee of the 10 counties with the highest numbers of registered voters. In the 2014 mid-terms, those 10 counties provided 54% of the total vote. One can also assume President Trump didn’t pick Chattanooga for a Sunday rally for Blackburn just because it has spillover potential in the Georgia governor’s race.

The counties are: Blount, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Montgomery, Rutherford, Shelby, Sullivan, Williamson, and Wilson.

In the early voting that ended Thursday, those 10 counties were the top 10 counties of early voters. They cast 814,001 votes, or 59% of the total early vote of 1,378,840.

And Davidson and Shelby accounted for 350,924 votes, or 43% of the votes cast in those 10 counties.

Applying an admittedly arbitrary but not unrealistic scenario based on the presidential results in Tennessee in 2016, assign a 55-45 victory for Blackburn in eight of those counties – Blount, Hamilton, Knox, Montgomery, Rutherford, Sullivan, Williamson and Wilson, and a 65-35 margin for Bredesen in Davidson and Shelby.

The results: Bredesen with 436,884 votes in those 10 counties compared to 377,517 for Blackburn.

A hill that once looked pretty steep for Bredesen given the Tennessee drift to the Republican side seems manageable, and the avalanche of money makes a lot of sense.

Is Bredesen outperforming the Democratic base by these margins, is Blackburn not benefiting from her and Trump’s efforts to nationalize the election? Tuesday is the poll that will tell, but a sizable number of the votes have already been cast.

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

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