Tennessee's Congressional Candidates Buckle Down For Wild Midterm Election

Posted at 9:37 PM, Jul 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-12 10:24:56-04

The 2018 midterms will be some of the most closely watched in years. Democrats are pinning their hopes on voters eager to send a message to the Trump administration. Some political analysts are predicting a "blue wave" while others are hedging their bets. But turning Tennessee's red districts blue could be a tall order, even with three Republicans stepping down.

DISTRICT 1 (Sevierville, Tri-Cities)

On the Republican side, incumbent Phil Roe would seem to have the advantage against his primary challengers. Roe has held the seat since 2008 and will seek to fend off challenges from Mickie Lou Banyas, James Brooks*, and Todd McKinley. As can be expected from the 6th most Republican district in the country (according to the Cook Political Report) the candidates are stressing their conservative bona fides and support for President Trump.

For the Democrats, Marty Olsenis running unopposed. The physician is pitching a program of "responsible change." It will take a lot of change to get a Democrat in that seat, though. That hasn't happened since the 19th century.

*no campaign website for James Brooks could be found

DISTRICT 2 (Knoxville)

If District 1 is the most solid Republican district in Tennessee, the 2nd isn't far behind. But even if the district is unlikely to flip, there will be change. For the first time since the 1960s, the seat will not be occupied by a member of the Duncan family. John J. Duncan Jr., is retiring, relinquishing the seat he has held since 1988. He succeeded his father, Duncan Sr., whose tenure stretched back to 1965. There are seven Republicans vying for the open seat: Tim Burchett, Jason Emert, Hank Hamblin, Jimmy Matlock, Ashley Nickloes, Vito Sagliano, and David Stansberry. Candidates have tried to position themselves as pro-Trump conservatives and the campaign has been marred by accusations of "dirty tricks."

Three Democrats are in the running: Renee Hoyos, Joseph Scheckenfelder*, and Joshua Williams. It's doubtful that District 2, like 1, will be part of a blue wave in November. The last time a Democrat won the 2nd it took the seat out of Whig Party hands.

*no campaign website could be found for Joseph Scheckenfelder

DISTRICT 3 (Chattanooga, Cleveland, eastern Cumberland Plateau)

Incumbent Chuck Fleischmann is facing challenges from Jeremy Massengale, Harold Shevlin, and Williarm Spurlock, Sr.  Rep. Fleischmann appears to hold the advantage in name recognition and fundraising.

Danielle Mitchell is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Cook rates the 3rd as solid Republican.

DISTRICT 4 (Murfreesboro, southern Middle Tennessee)

Rep. Scott Desjarlais is seeking his fifth term as District 4 representative. He was part of a "red wave" that saw the Democrats lose three seats in 2010 following a contentious Affordable Care Act vote. He faces a primary challenge from Jack Maddux. The race has been ugly at times, but Desjarlais is no stranger to tough campaigns. He survived a series of election year scandals surrounding his divorce and alleged infidelity to survive a 2014 primary challenge by just 38 votes.

Three Murfreesboro Democrats aim to make this district competitive again for Democrats: Christopher Hale, Mariah Phillips, and Steven Reynolds. Cook rates the 4th as solid Republican.

DISTRICT 5 (Nashville, part of Cheatham County)

Rep. Jim Cooper, one of two Democrats in Tennessee's Congressional delegation, has served in Congress since 1983. Cooper is the son of former Governor Prentice Cooper. He is running unopposed.

Unseating Cooper's hold on the 5th has been a goal of Republicans for years. Though the district is solidly blue, Cook's Partisan Voter Index only rates it as +7 in Democratic favor. That would make it, by their count, the most competitive district in the state. Jody Ball and Glen Dean face each other in the Republican primary.

DISTRICT 6 (Sumner County, Robertson County, the Cumberland Plateau)

Another open seat in a solid Republican district is attracting plenty of candidates but little in the way of political experience: Bob Corlew, Judd Matheny, Christopher Monday, John Rose, and Lavern Vivio. What they lack in political experience they make up for in resume: a judge, a lawman, a farmer, and a radio personality (perhaps better known by her on-air name: U-Turn Lavern). As a judge, Corlew is the only one who's won an election. The seat was left open after Diane Black announced her run for governor.

Four Democrats are hoping to turn the 6th blue again: Dawn Barlow, Christopher Finley*, Peter Heffernan*,and Merrilee Wineinger. Like their Republican rivals, there is not a lot of political experience on the blue side of the aisle. Even though the seat was held by a Democrat as recently as 2010 that can be a bit misleading: the district hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 and it became even more Republican after a 2010 redistricting. Cook rates the 6th as solid Republican.

*no campaign website for Finley nor Heffernan could be found.

DISTRICT 7 (Franklin, Clarksville, Parsons, and much of southern Middle Tennessee)

This seat came open after Marsha Blackburn announced her run for the Senate. State Senator Mark Green is running unopposed for the Republican nomination. He made national headlines last year when his nomination for Army Secretary in the Trump administration was derailed by comments that were taken to be critical of transgender people. He withdrew his nomination.

He'll face one of two Democrats: Justin Kanew and Matt Reel. Reel has picked up some endorsements from former "Blue Dog" democrats. The 7th would seem to be the type of district being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which includes affluent suburbs of Nashville. However, Green shows a strong fundraising advantage according to the most recently available data. Cook ranks the 7th as solid Republican.

DISTRICT 8 (Jackson, Dyersburg, West Tennessee)

Incumbent David Kustoff faces two primary challengers: George Flinn and Colleen Owens. Flinn came in second to Kustoff in 2016 when the two faced off over Stephen Fincher's vacated seat.

Two Democrats are vying for the nomination: John Boatner and Erika Stotts Pearson*. The 8th district was at one time a Democratic stronghold but could never be called liberal. Cook rates it as solid Republican. 

DISTRICT 9 (Memphis)

As the state's only majority African-American district the 9th is solidly Democratic. Steve Cohen has held the seat since 2007 and has been the state's most outspoken liberal on many issues. He faces two challengers in the primary: Isaac Richmond* and Kasandra Smith, both African-Americans. It remains to be seen if they will better appeal to black voters or if Memphis will, as his slogan says, "keep going with Cohen."

Charlotte Bergmann is running unopposed for the Republican primary. Her campaign slogan is "To Make America Great Again," an obvious nod to the president. That could be a tough sell in Tennessee's bluest district.

*a campaign website for Isaac Richmond could not be found

What should voters expect?

It would seem that Tennessee Democrats enjoy some advantages in 2018: three Republicans stepping down and the historical implications of the first midterm of the Trump presidency. One might even be tempted to smell opportunity in the President's approval numbers. However, a few things could stand in the way of a blue wave in the Volunteer State. One, the President is more popular in Tennessee than he is in the rest of the country, with a 56% approval rating in Tennessee in an April 2018 NBC/Survey Monkey poll. Two, all of Tennessee's districts, red or blue, are rated as "solid." While the outlook is more favorable for Democrats nationally, it remains to be seen if any of Tennessee's nine seats will flip in either direction. But that, of course, will be up to the voters.