By Laura Medlin

Tennessee is a Republican stronghold in both national and state politics. The GOP dominates Tennessee’s House, Senate, the Executive Office and its congressional delegation. The nationwide sweep Republicans enjoyed in 2010 brought into Tennessee a Republican governor, unseated several Democratic incumbents and solidified Republican political control.

In their presidential campaigns, Republicans George W. Bush and John McCain both received a higher percentage of popular votes in Tennessee than they did nationally. Tennessee is expected to continue the trend this year and will most likely cast its 11 electoral votes for Mitt Romney.

Among Southern states, Tennessee has often defied conventional political wisdom. Many of its citizens have supported Republicans since the Civil War, even during the era of the Democratic Solid South. In the last decade, the state did not give its electoral votes to its own native son, Democrat Al Gore, when he ran for president in 2000 against the George W. Bush. This year, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Mark Clayton, is the vice president of the far-right Public Advocate of the United States, which has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Clayton is running against popular Republican incumbent Bob Corker. Democratic officials disavowed Clayton less than a day after his 20-point primary victory, attributing his win to his name being the first on the ballot. Corker is expected to win easily.

In the ninth congressional district, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a white Democrat in a heavily-black district, faces George Flinn, who has mounted a strong fight with relentless campaign ads in the historically Memphis-based district.  Despite the effort, analysts say Cohen still has the edge.

In the fourth district, Democrat Eric Stewart is doing his utmost to unseat Republican incumbent Scott DesJarlais, who defeated four-term incumbent Lincoln Davis in 2010. DesJarlais had a good chance of winning re-election, but his campaign has been rocked by a transcript of a phone conversation in which he appears to urge a woman he had been seeing—his patient—to get an abortion. Though DesJarlais, who is pro-life, said she was never pregnant and he was not having an affair because he and his wife were separated at the time and legally allowed to see other people. The Romney campaign removed the link to DesJarlais’s website from his endorsement page.

Seven districts are likely to reelect their incumbents—six Republicans and one Democrat. In the first district, located deep in the mountains in the northeast corner of the state, Republicans have held the Congressional seat for all but four years since 1859. Republican incumbent Phil Roe likely to win.

In the race for the redrawn sixth district, Republican incumbent Diane Black won a vitriolic August primary against Republican Lou Ann Zelenik. Besides criticizing each other’s politics, the candidates launched a stream of harsh personal attacks that Mother Jones magazine characterized as “the craziest GOP House race of the year.”

The most competitive state legislative race is between Democrat Phillip North and Republican Steve Dickerson, who are competing in State Senate District 20, which includes a large part of Davidson County, the capital county.  Analysts predict a tight race because both candidates are ideologically closer to the center than the right and left. District 20 is in a historically Democratic area, but it was redistricted after the 2010 census, which added thousands of new Republican voters.

Many state campaigns are being fought in part over the issue of providing vouchers for parents to send their children to private schools if the public schools are not up to standard. The General Assembly recently passed a law that mandates the use of a photo ID at the polls. It survived a challenge in Davidson County court, where it was declared constitutional on September 26.  Opponents of the law say that as many as 390,000 registered voters in Tennessee do not have a photo ID. An appeals court will not decide until after Election Day.


Who’s Who in Tennessee Politics

Governor Bill Haslam,
Republican.  Elected in 2010

Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey,
Republican.  Reelected for his third term in 2011

Senator Bob Corker,
Republican, up for reelection this year, 2007-present

Senator Lamar Alexander,


Tennessee Republican Party:  http://www.tngop.org/

Tennessee Democratic Party:  http://www.tndp.org/

Tennessee Senate:  http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/

Tennessee House of Representatives:  http://www.capitol.tn.gov/house/


Political Commentary

Pat Nolan offers a frank and critical look into state and national politics in his Capitol View on Nashville News Channel 5 each Friday.  http://www.newschannel5.com/category/91658/capitol-view-commentary-by-pat-nolan

Tennessee Watchdog investigates government excess and abuse of power.  Their site also features a page to submit news tips.  http://tennessee.watchdog.org/.

Nashville’s newspaper, The Tennessean, covers state and local politics in a way that readers can understand.  http://www.tennessean.com.

The Nashville Post has a political roundup page with one line summaries of salient political news.  http://nashvillepost.com/blogs/postpolitics.