NewsChannel 5+Inside PoliticsCapitol View Commentary


Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 3, 2018

Posted at 3:31 PM, Aug 03, 2018


By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company


August 3, 2018


Tennessee is a red state politically.

There was no indication in the August election that despite adding three new faces, there will be any change in the Republican 7-2 dominance of our congressional delegation.

It also appears the GOP will keep its Super Majorities in both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly.

So why do the Democrats’ statewide nominees for Governor and U.S. Senator, Karl Dean and Phil Bredesen, seem to have legitimate chances to win November, even though they likely start the fall campaign as underdogs?

Is Tennessee a more moderate state when you assess it statewide? Or did the Republicans in the General Assembly do a really good job in maximizing GOP majorities in the congressional and legislative districts they drew a few years ago?

The Republican nominees, Bill Lee (Governor)and Marsha Blackburn (Senate) live in the same county (Williamson). So do the Democrats (Davidson), All four live in the same grand division of the state (Middle). Our three grand divisions in Tennessee are not just geography. They have colored our government and politics for centuries. How do these candidates, particularly in the governor’s race, reassure those in the East and West Grand Divisions they will have a place at the table if they are elected in November?

Will Karl Dean and Phil Bredesen campaign jointly? Will Blackburn and Lee do the same? Will President Donald Trump (who has now endorsed Bill Lee along with Blackburn) come to Tennessee multiple times this fall to campaign for them? Who saw that coming on the President’s travel plans earlier this year? Will Governor Bill Haslam join the GOP candidates when the President comes to town?

Will Phil Bredesen’s and Karl Dean’s past support of disgraced former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry become an issue (probably only if the Republicans think they are falling behind)?

Will Bill Lee’s past donations to both Dean and Bredesen come up again as they did during the GOP primary (again probably only if the Democrats are behind)?

How did Bill Lee win by double digits when this seemed to be a very tight three- way race? A late surge by a candidate is not hard to identify, but it can be tricky to gauge the strength, size and endurance of such a development. Bill Lee’s upward move began before he was attacked by both Randy Boyd and Diane Black. But their attacks didn’t work, and actually backfired, because of the way Lee responded. It

was not with an attack in-kind of his own but rather a condemnation by Lee of attack ads in general which voters seemed to like.

The governor’s race at over $50 million in expenditures is already the most expensive ever with the fall campaign to go. The GOP gubernatorial primary is yet another example that spending a lot of your own money is not the key to victory. After spending $20 million (Boyd) and $13 million (Black) respectively, those candidates finished a rather distant second and third Thursday night. I have seen it before, including the “Gold Dust Twins” of the 1974 Democratic Primary (Franklin Haney and Jake Butcher who lost to Ray Blanton) and Jane Eskind in 1986 (she lost to Ned McWherter). Usually personal wealth works best when deployed sparingly while those funds remain a threat for possible use, which sometimes keeps opponents out of the race.

Bill Lee garnered just 37% of the primary vote. That’s the lowest winning total for any Tennessee Republican gubernatorial candidate since Winfield Dunn in 1970. Like Lee, Dunn came out of nowhere to win based on the huge margin of support he received from his hometown voters in Shelby County. Then “Winfield Who?” upset Democrat John Jay Hooker to become the first Republican governor in 50 years in Tennessee. Obviously, GOP voters wanted an outsider and a fresh face which the have in Lee who like Dunn has the least political experience in recent times.

Winfield Dunn had a united party behind him n 1970, although it was very much smaller in size in those days. Will Lee have a united party behind him? So far the post-election reaction by the defeated candidates look positive from Diane Black, even though fourth place finisher House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters it is too early to talk about it. I have not seen any comment from Randy Boyd, but I suspect Governor Haslam (who has now endorsed Lee) will work to get the Knoxville businessman on board. Haslam has also gotten Lee, as the GOP gubernatorial nominee, several million dollars in media funds from the National Republican Governors Association (which the Governor chairs) to spend this fall. In some ways Governor Haslam’s legacy is on the line in this election. If Lee wins he will become the first Republican governor in Tennessee history to succeed another GOP governor.

So what does the GOP dominance in primary turnout size (more than 2 to 1) mean? It’s interesting. Bredesen got 348,000 plus votes (91.5%). Blackburn “only” 85%, But in raw numbers, that translates to 610,800 votes for Blackburn or 225,000 more than Bredesen.

Looks like the Democrats have their work cut out for them. Probably. But one Democratic operative sent me an e-mail with a very different twist on the numbers.

“178,622 Republican primary voters didn't vote for Marsha Blackburn - 23%.

789,506 total votes in GOP gov primary minus 610,884 votes for Blackburn.

112,231 GOP primary voters voted for Aaron Pettigrew - a candidate that raised $255 dollars. Those clearly were votes against Blackburn, not votes for Pettigrew.

One in four Republican primary voters refused to cast their ballots for Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. - Mark Brown, Tennessee Victory 2018”

In the Governor’s race, if Karl Dean had been a candidate in the GOP field, he would finished a close second behind Lee (290,000 votes for Lee to 271,000 votes for Dean). That’s encouraging for the Democrats, but if the hundreds of thousands of others who voted in the GOP primary for the Republican

gubernatorial candidates return in November, that may make things very different. Bottom line: Numbers in largely uncontested races can be fun to play with but don’t take them as the gospel.

Finally, the ongoing elections to fill the top positions at the Metro Courthouse are still not over in the wake of the scandal and resignation of Mayor Megan Barry last spring. Former Vice Mayor David Briley has been elected to serve as Mayor until Barry’s term ends next year. But an effort to elect a new vice mayor Thursday resulted in no one receiving the 50% plus one vote majority to win. That means there will be a runoff election next month between the top two vote getters, Acting Vice Mayor Sheri Weiner who got 45% of the vote Thursday and At Large Councilman Jim Schulman who received 42%.

But how did the third candidate in the race, little-known studio musician and political newcomer Matt DelRossi receive 13% of the vote? He was listed first on the ballot (alphabetically) which is thought to be worth a few points at the polls. But not 13%.

Here’s my thought. There are voters out there mad at Metro government. They are mad about the Barry scandal, mad about all the problems of growth and development, mad about the city now being short on revenues despite record economic boom. There may not be enough of them to elect somebody, but they can vote for a newcomer, an unknown to send a message and force another countywide election, even if that will cost taxpayers a $1 million.


The voters have spoken in the August 2 primary election here in Tennessee.

What does it mean? And what happens going forward into the fall campaign ending with the general election in November?

To give us his insights and knowledge, we have asked Professor Marc Schwerdt of Lipscomb University to join us again.

It should be a fun conversation!

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The next 30-plus days will see a final decision made on whether Nashville will be the host of an MLS major-league soccer team.

The Metro Council approved the concept overwhelmingly a few months ago. But that was before our mayoral scandal and change in leadership, followed with an unexpectedly difficult budget process for Metro.

Now the Briley administration has submitted a package of legislation, that if approved (with a preliminary deadline of September 4), stadium construction and the rest of the work needed to bring pro soccer here will be on the way to reality.

So far, several Metro boards and agencies have given their approvals, and it appears support in the Metro Council remains solid. However, that will be tested, with one piece of legislation before city leaders (to demolish some buildings at the Fairgrounds) requiring a two-thirds (27 vote) majority.

There may also be questions about rent payments if the Council votes to rezone 10-acres of the Fairgrounds for the soccer team to redevelop. There is also a community benefits plan for the soccer team to finalize with neighbors. I’ll bet Council members will insist that be complete before the full package of legislation is given a final OK.

THE NASHVILLE BUSNESS JOURNAL has a good summary of all this, if you want more details.

Here are more insights and background from THE NASHVILLE SCENE about the community benefits plan and the ongoing negotiations going on between neighborhood representatives and soccer officials.


After two Metro police officer related shootings in less than two years (in each case, a young black man killed by a white officer), the long running effort to establish a civilian review board to oversee the investigation and community complaints about such police incidents is gaining speed.

The fact that the latest shooting occurred in just the last week or so, while activists were out in the community seeking voter signatures on a petition to put the matter on the ballot, likely greatly boosted the effort.

Well over 8,000 signatures were turned in to Metro officials on Wednesday which may be well more than needed to put the issue on the November ballot as an amendment to the Metro Charter. The voter signatures still need to be verified.