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Election Preview: Four Southern U.S. Senate races are key in battle for control

Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee; Democrats in Florida and West Virginia

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — With the balance of power in the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, voters in four Southern states will decide hotly contested races in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee that have turned out to be much more competitive than expected in two very Republican states. Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents are defending turf in Florida and West Virginia, states which President Donald Trump carried in 2016.

Another Senate seat is up in Virginia, where Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is favored to win re-election. Both seats are up this year in Mississippi, and Republican candidates are favored to hold both.

In Texas, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is seeking a second term against Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a race in which the challenger has sparked the imagination of Democratic activists around the country.

Cruz, who came in second to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, was heavily favored for re-election at the beginning of 2018. But O’Rourke — trying to take advantage of a changing political electorate in fast-growing Texas, including more younger and Latino voters — has made the race competitive, even though Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years.

O’Rouke has raised more than $70 million for the race, the largest haul of any Senate candidate this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records. Cruz has raised $40 million.

Despite Cruz’s often contentious relationship with Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries, which famously included Trump dubbing him “Lyin’ Ted,” the president has gone all out for Cruz in this race, even traveling to Houston for a campaign rally.

In Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is vying with former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen for a seat which opened after the retirement of U.S. Senator Bob Corker, one of Trump’s strongest critics in Congress.

After first rebuffing calls for him to run after Corker announced he was leaving the Senate, Bredesen changed course last December and jumped into the race, giving Volunteer State Democrats a shot at capturing the seat behind the candidacy of a popular two-term moderate.

But Blackburn has fought back by trying to tie Bredesen to national Democratic leaders who are unpopular in Tennessee, in particular Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Republicans currently have  a slim one-vote majority in the Senate. However, because Democrats are defending more seats this cycle than Republicans, it is unlikely they can capture a Senate majority — and depose Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader — without winning in either Texas and Tennessee.

In Florida, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is facing off against Republican Governor Rick Scott, who has served as the Sunshine State’s chief executive for the past eight years.

Nelson, who first arrived in Congress during the Carter administration, is a proven vote-getter seeking his fourth term. Scott’s two wins for governor were narrow, although his approval ratings have ticked up during the final year of his administration.

Florida is more evenly divided than either Texas or Tennessee, generally sending one senator from each party to Washington since the 1980s. Trump’s win in Florida in 2016 was by a single point, compared to a 9-point win in Texas and a 26-point win in Tennessee.

In West Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was seen as particularly vulnerable given Trump’s 40-point win in the Mountaineer State. But Machin kept himself in contention by avoiding criticism of the president and supporting him on a number of high-profile issues, including both of Trump’s Supreme Court picks.

Manchin may have also benefited from the Republicans’ selection of a standard-bearer — State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who grew up in New Jersey, has only lived in West Virginia since 2006 and spent nearly a decade as a Washington lobbyist.

The folksy Manchin, a West Virginia native who served as governor before being elected to the Senate, has made much of that contrast. Morrisey has responded much the way Blackburn has in Tennessee — by trying to tie the incumbent to liberal establishment Democrats.

In Mississippi, both Senate seats are up this year due to the retirement of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. One race is a special election to fill the remainder of Cochran’s term; the other is for the seat occupied by Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker.

While Wicker is heavily favored over his Democratic challenger, State House Minority Leader David Baria, the special election features a three-way race in which candidates from all parties will compete and a runoff held between the top two vote-getters if no one captures a majority.

The special election is a three-way contest between Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement; Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel, who lost a bitter primary against Cochran in 2014; and Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration.

Depending on how evenly the Republican vote is divided, the top GOP candidate could face Espy in a November 27 runoff. But polls have showed Hyde-Smith with a wide lead over McDaniel, which could be enough for her to win the seat outright on Tuesday.

Although McDaniel was a vocal supporter of Trump in 2016, the president snubbed McDaniel and endorsed Hyde-Smith, who had been a Democrat until 2010. McDaniel has charged that Trump was “forced” into making the endorsement by Senate Republican leaders.

In Virginia, Kaine is facing Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who served as Trump’s Virginia coordinator in 2016.

When he kicked off his campaign in July 2017, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” that he could against Kaine. However, public polling in the race has shown that strategy has failed to gain traction, and Kaine enjoys a wide lead.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot U.S. Senate races

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Election Preview: Governor’s races could make history in Florida, Georgia

Democrats within shooting distance in Oklahoma, Tennessee; GOP incumbents heavily favored in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and South Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Eight Southern governorships are on the ballot in Tuesday’s midterm elections, highlighted by close and contentious races in Florida and Georgia that have garnered national attention.

Abrams

Gillum

Democrats are hoping to make history: If Democrat Andrew Gillum wins in Florida, he will be the Sunshine State’s first African-American governor, while a victory by Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia would make her not only its first black governor but also the first woman to hold the post and the first black female governor in U.S. history.

However, in both states, Democratic nominees will have to overcome a long history of Republican control. The last time a Democrat won a governor’s race in Florida was 1994; in Georgia, 1998.

Kemp

DeSantis

In Florida, the Republican nominee is former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has received considerable help in his quest for the governorship from President Donald Trump. The president stopped twice in Florida to campaign for DeSantis in the closing days of the campaign.

The Republican nominee in Georgia is Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has also benefited from a Trump endorsement and a presidential visit on the Sunday before the vote.

Public polling has shown both races are within the statistical margin of error, which means neither race can be  forecast with certainty heading into election day.

In 2016, Trump carried Florida by a single point and Georgia by 5 points. While Florida has long been a swing state, the result in Georgia was the smallest win by a Republican in the Peach State since 1996, giving Democrats hope that it might be in play in 2020.

A win by either Abrams or Gillum would be a boon to Democratic prospects in 2020. It will also give them a say in redrawing congressional districts after the 2020 census — a process that Republicans have totally controlled in both states for the past decade.

And if the race in Georgia is close, it might not be decided on election night. State law requires a candidate to win an outright majority to claim the governorship. With a Libertarian in the race, neither major-party candidate could reach that threshold, triggering a December 4 runoff between them.

The remaining six Southern governorships up this year — all held by Republicans — look to be more secure, though Democrats may have outside shots in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

In the Sooner State, where Republican Governor Mary Fallin is term-limited, Republican businessman Kevin Stitt is facing former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who comes to the race having served 16 years in statewide office.

Approval polling has pegged Fallin as America’s most unpopular governor, which has not helped Stitt’s cause. Oklahoma teachers also went on strike last year in a public display of protest that has reverberated through state politics.

Public polling has shown Stitt with a small lead near the edge of the margin of error. While Stitt is still regarded as the favorite, one prominent national prognosticator, The Cook Political Report, rates the race as a toss-up.

In Tennessee, where voters are also filling an open seat for a term-limited incumbent, Governor Bill Haslam, Republican Bill Lee, a first-time candidate who worked in Haslam’s administration, is facing Democrat Karl Dean, the former mayor of Nashville.

Public polling has shown Lee above 50 percent and with a statistically significant lead over Dean.

Four other governor’s races on the midterm ballot — in Arkansas, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina — all feature Republican incumbents who are expected to easily win re-election:

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Republicans hold 11 of the 14 Southern governorships; Democrats are in charge in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot governor’s races.

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Blackburn, Bredesen clash over immigration, guns and Kavanaugh in U.S. Senate debate

Tennessee candidates meet for the final time before November vote.

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Click photo to watch full debate (Courtesy: Nexstar Broadcasting)

KNOXVILLE (CFP) — With polls showing a tight U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen tangled over health care, immigration, gun rights and the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh in their second and final debate.

Throughout the October 10 event at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Blackburn sought to tie Bredesen to Hillary Clinton and other national Democrats, noting several times that he had donated $33,400 to her 2016 presidential campaign and insisting that if he gets to the Senate, he would support Democratic priorities on immigration, health care and gun control.

Bredesen shot back by with a call to “stop with all the ideological stuff and setting people against each other.”

“You seem to have a crystal ball about talking all the time about what I’m going to do when I’m a U.S. Senator,” Bredesen said to Blackburn. “I’m going to act when I’m a senator exactly the same way I acted when I was a governor, which is independently. I was an equal-opportunity offender of both parties in Washington.”

Both Blackburn and Bredesen supported the Kavanaugh nomination, which became mired in controversy after a woman alleged that Kavanaugh had assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. But Blackburn noted that Tennesseans supported the nomination and that had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election with Bredesen’s support, “you would not have had a Judge Kavanaugh.”

“It took Phil a while to make his mind up on this issue. And he finally did. It could have been because of the sexual harassment claims in his administration when he was governor,” she said.

The reference was to a controversy over how sexual harassment claims were handled in the governor’s office during Bredesen’s tenure, including an episode in 2005 in which an aide accused of sexual misconduct was moved out of the governor’s office and into a different state job and a state investigator shredded his interview notes.

“There was a path for friends of Phil where sexual harassment claims were handled, and there was also the path for everyone else,” she said. “The voices of those women were shredded. They died in that shredder.”

Bredense, took issue with Blackburn’s characterization of the incident, insisting that the allegations had been handled appropriately.

“The individual who performed these acts was gone the next day from the governor’s office,” he said. “That woman was protected in every way we know how.”

Bredesen and Blackburn disagreed on President Donald Trump’s proposed physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he dismissed as “political theater.”

“I believe very strongly in controlling our borders,” he said. “But I think there are much better ways of doing this than building a wall.”

At that, Blackburn pounced, saying Democrats “have advocated for open borders, for abolishing (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”

“He thinks that building the wall is political theater? Well, let me tell you something, Tennesseans want to see that wall built because open border policies have made every town a border town and every state a border state,” she said. “Walls work. Just ask Israel.”

On health care, Bredesen criticized Blackburn for voting “time and time again to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having anything to replace it,” which he said would “remove any ability of someone with pre-existing conditions to obtain health insurance.”

“I think that is just plain wrong,” he said.

But Blackburn insisted that Republican plans to replace Obamacare did protect pre-existing conditions, and she again sought to tie Bredensen to his party’s 2016 standard-bearer.

“Hillary Clinton is the mother of government-run health care. That is a concept that Phil supports,” she said. “Tennesseans don’t want government-controlled health care.”

Both candidates agreed that people who are a danger to themselves or others because of mental illness should not have access to firearms. But Blackburn noted that she has an A rating from the National Rifle Association to Bredesen’s D, and she highlighted a recent trip Bredesen took to New York to meet with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a prominent gun control advocate.

“If you had Democrats in control, and Hillary Clinton who he wanted to be president was president, you would see them taking away your guns,” she said.

But Bredesen said he was a lifelong gun owner who supports the Second Amendment and “got crossways with the NRA because I vetoed a bill that allowed people to carry guns in bars.”

“I thought that was crazy. It was stupid,” he said.

Recent public polling has put the Tennessee Senate race between Bredesen and Blackburn within the margin of error. A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990.

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Taylor Swift sends bad blood Blackburn’s way in Tennessee U.S. Senate race; GOP shakes it off

Pop star and longtime Tennessee resident endorses Marsha Blackburn’s Democratic rival, says her record “appalls and terrifies me”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Pop icon and Tennessee resident Taylor Swift has taken to Instagram to offer a rare political endorsement of two Democratic congressional candidates — and send a bit of bad blood in the direction of Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is seeking an open U.S. Senate seat.

Taylor Swift

“Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me,” Swift wrote of Blackburn in an October 7 Instagram post. “She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape.”

“She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values.”

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee

While Blackburn’s campaign did not offer immediate reaction to Swift’s broadside, the National Republican Senatorial Committee characterized her in a statement as a “multimillionaire pop star” who “came down from her ivory tower to tell hardworking Tennesseans” how to vote.

President Donald Trump reacted to her Instagram post by telling reporters, “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now, OK?”

“I’m sure Taylor Swift has nothing or doesn’t know anything about (Blackburn),” he said.

Swift, 28, has lived in Tennessee for the past 14 years, after moving to the Nashville area with her parents at age 14 to pursue a music career.

Criticized in the past for refusing to get involved politically, she directly endorsed two candidates — Blackburn’s Democratic opponent, former Governor Phil Bredesen, and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who holds a safely Democratic seat in metro Nashville.

She did not mention the Democratic candidate for governor, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is running against Republican businessman Bill Lee.

Bredensen took to Twitter to say he was “honored” to get Swift’s support — and taunt Blackburn using the title of one of Swift’s recent hits: “@VoteMarsha, look what you made her do. @taylorswift13 doesn’t like your little games and she wants Tennesseans to know that you’ve been in the swamp long enough. It’s time for some fresh air up in Washington.”

In her Instagram post, Swift said she decided to get involved in the campaign “due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years.”

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she said. “I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love.”

Recent public polls show the Senate race between Blackburn and Bredesen within the margin of error, a surprisingly competitive race in a state where Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in 12 years or a Senate seat in 28 years.

Cooper is considered a prohibitive favorite in the 5th District U.S. House race over Republican Jody Ball. He has represented the district, which includes Davidson, Dickson and Cheatham counties, since 2003.

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Phil Bredensen says he won’t support Chuck Schumer for Democratic leader if elected

Democratic candidate for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat makes announcement during debate with Republican rival

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Former Governor Phil Bredesen has announced that if elected to Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat, he will not support Chuck Schumer of New York to continue as his party’s Senate leader.

Former Governor Phil Bredesen

Bredesen, locked in a close race with Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, told the audience at a September 25 debate that he thinks Congress needs “new leadership.”

“I think a lot of the problem in Washington is with the leadership that we have there now. Whether it be (House Speaker Paul) Ryan or (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi or (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell or Schumer, they’re not doing the job,” Bredensen said.

Bredensen took specific issue with charges by Blackburn and other Republicans claiming that he would be a rubber stamp for the current Senate Democratic leader.

“You’ve heard a lot recently of this campaign about me, about these crazy ideas about if somehow I’m elected and go to Washington, suddenly I’m going to turn my back on a whole lifetime of thinking for myself and being independent and suddenly become some kind of a political lackey,” Bredesen said. “That’s not going to happen.”

But Blackburn continued to press the line of attack, saying Bredensen’s campaign had been “bought and paid for” by Schumer.

“We all know that Phil had a choice. He could have run as a Republican or independent,” she said. “He’s running as a Democrat, so he will be with Chuck Schumer if he were to go to Washington.”

Bredesen, a former two-term governor, is trying to become the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the Volunteer State since 1990. The four most recent public polls have shown the race within the margin of error, indicating the closeness of the race.

The seat is open due to the retirement of Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

Bredesen’s stance on Schumer’s tenure is unlikely to threaten the New Yorker’s grip on the Democratic leadership, which requires support from a majority of the Democratic caucus in a non-public vote. Only one other Democratic Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, has come out against Schumer.

Democrats need to make a net gain of two seats in the Senate to take control, which would make Schumer majority leader. Four GOP-held seats being targeted include Tennessee, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

Watch the full Bredesen-Blackburn debate:

Tennessee Primary: Bill Lee wins GOP nod for governor; Blackburn, Bredesen advance in U.S. Senate race

Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff survives challenge in West Tennessee

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

NASHVILLE (CNN) — Bill Lee, a cattle rancher making his first bid for political office, came from behind to easily beat two politically connected rivals to capture the Republican nomination for Tennessee governor.

Among the losers was U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who gave up chairmanship of the powerful House Budget Committee to seek the governorship and now finds herself out of politics.

As expected, voters in the August 2 primary also set up what will be a pitched U.S. Senate battle between Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen, who both easily won their primaries.

Republicans also settled primaries for four GOP-held U.S. House seats, including in West Tennessee’s 8th District, where freshman Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff turned back a self-funding challenger after getting an endorsement from President Donald Trump.

Gubernatorial nominee Bill Lee, R-Tennessee

In the governor’s race, Lee, 58, a businessman and rancher from Franklin, took 37 percent of the vote to 24 percent for Randy Boyd, an adviser to outgoing Governor Bill Haslam. Black finished third with 23 percent.

Because Tennessee doesn’t have primary runoffs, Lee won the nomination with a plurality.

“How overwhelming is this?” Lee told jubilant supporters at a victory party in his hometown of Franklin. “I could stand right here and not say anything for a long time.”

Lee started the race a virtual unknown, crisscrossing the state in an RV and telling voters how he was called to public service by the death of his first wife in a horseback riding accident in 2000.

But what may have helped Lee the most were his outsider persona and his decision to refrain from negative attacks on his opponents, even as Black and Boyd both turned their fire on each other and him.

“I’m a man who is not a politician, but I do have a vision for Tennessee to lead this nation,” Lee said. “Thank you for choosing leadership over politics.”

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean

In the fall, Lee will face former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who easily won the Democratic primary.

Black, 67, had once been considered the front-runner in the race but faded as Lee surged from the back of the pack. In the final insult, she lost most of the counties in the 6th District in Middle Tennessee, which she represented in Congress for the last eight years.

Despite Black’s ardent support for Trump and her work getting his tax cuts through Congress, she did not receive a coveted presidential tweet of endorsement, which has buoyed GOP candidates for governor in primaries in Georgia and Florida.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee

Giving a concession speech to supporters in Nashville, Black noted that this was the first time she had lost an election in 19 races over a 30-year political career.

“Sometimes God just sets a different course for you than what you set for yourself,” she said.

While the primaries narrowed the Democratic and Republican fields, the fall race for governor will still be a crowded affair, as 26 independents have qualified for the ballot, including 13 Libertarians. Because the Libertarian Party does not have official ballot access, the party has no primary, and all 13 candidates will appear on the ballot as independents.

In the U.S. Senate race, Blackburn took 85 percent in the Republican primary, while Bredesen took 92 percent of the Democratic vote. However, overall, she outpolled him by more than 260,000 votes statewide.

Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore won a second term. But recent polling shows a close race between Blackburn and Bredesen, and outside groups are expected to pour millions in a race that could decide control of the Senate.

The seat is being given up by Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, who opted not to seek re-election after become one of Trump’s strongest critics in Congress.

Former Governor Phil Bredesen

Bredesen, 74, served two terms as governor from 2003 to 2011 after serving as mayor of Nashville from 1991 to 1999. A political moderate, he was the last Democrat to win statewide in Tennessee when he was re-elected governor in 2006.

When Corker announced his retirement in September 2017, Bredesen initially said he would not run for the Senate seat, only to reverse course two months later after lobbying by national Democratic leaders. His entry in the race turned what looked like a long-shot for Democrats into a competitive contest.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee

Blackburn, 66, from Brentwood, has served in the House since 2003 and is a deputy whip in the House leadership. In her announcement for the Senate, she described herself  as a “hardcore card-carrying Tennessee conservative” with a gun in her purse. She has largely been supportive of Trump, who has endorsed her.

Both candidates have so far raised more than $8 million for the Senate battle, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

In U.S. House races, Kustoff was the only incumbent to face a significant challenge from George Flinn, a former Shelby County commissioner who poured more than $3 million of his own money in his fifth try for federal office. But Kustoff dispatched Flinn easily, taking 56 percent of the vote, 16 points ahead of his challenger.

In the Democratic race in the 8th District, the leader is Erika Stotts Pearson, the former assistant general manager of the WNBA’s Memphis Blues, who came in ahead of John Boatner, a social worker from Shelby County. However, only 284 votes separated the candidates, too close to declare a final winner.

In the 2nd District, which includes metro Knoxville and surrounding portions of East Tennessee, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett won the Republican primary with 48 percent of the vote, defeating State Rep. Jimmy Matlock from Lenior City at 36 percent.

Burchett will now face Democrat Renee Hoyos from Knoxville, former director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, who easily won her primary.

The seat opened when U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan retired. Burchett will be a prohibitive favorite in the heavily Republican district.

In the open race for Black’s 6th District seat, the Republican winner was John Rose from Cookeville, a former state agriculture commissioner, who took 41 percent to defeat Bob Corlew, a retired judge from Mount Juliet, with 31 percent.

In November, Rose will face Dawn Barlow, a physician from Livingston who carried 55 percent in the Democratic primary.

In the open race for Blackburn’s 7th District seat, which includes Nashville’s southern suburbs and west-central Tennessee, Democrats picked Justin Canew from College Grove, a digital media producer and two-time contestant on The Amazing Race. He will now face State Senator Mark Green from Ashland City, who was the only Republican to file.

In 2017, Trump nominated Green, a physician and West Point graduate, to be Secretary of the Army, but Green withdrew the nomination amid controversy of some of his previous public statements, including an assertion in 2016 that most psychiatrists believe being transgendered is a “disease.” (The American Psychiatric Association does not classify gender non-conformity as a mental illness).

Tennessee Primary: GOP battle for governor, open U.S. House seats top ballot

U.S. Rep Diane Black tries to fend off two Republican rivals in governor’s race, without Donald Trump’s endorsement

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

NASHVILLE (CNN) — Voters in Tennessee are heading to the polls for a unique Thursday primary in which the Republican race for the open governor’s seat is getting the lion’s share of attention.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who had been considered the front-runner earlier in the race, is now facing a battle with Randy Boyd, an adviser to outgoing Governor Bill Haslam, and Bill Lee, a businessman and rancher from Williamson County.

Despite her ardent support for President Donald Trump and her work getting his tax cuts through Congress, Black has not received a coveted presidential tweet of endorsement, which has buoyed GOP candidates for governor in primaries in Georgia and Florida.

Because Tennessee doesn’t have primary runoffs, the candidate who finishes first in the six-way primary will become the nominee.

Phil Bredesen

Marsha Blackburn

In the U.S. Senate race, Republicans are expected to nominate U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn to face Democratic former Governor Phil Bredensen in what’s likely to become one of the fall’s hottest Senate contests.

Parties are also picking nominees for U.S. House seats given up by Black and Blackburn and the 2nd District seat that opened with the retirement of U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan.

In West Tennessee’s 8th District, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff is facing a strong primary challenge from George Flinn, a self-funding former Shelby County commissioner making his fifth try for federal office.

Tennessee is one of only two states that do not hold their primary elections on a Tuesday, a schedule dating back to its admission as a state in 1796; Louisiana holds its primaries for state and local offices on Saturdays.

Polls open in most of Tennessee at 7 a.m., although times may vary by county. Polls close at 8 p.m. in the Eastern time zone and 7 p.m. in the Central time zone.

Bill Lee

Randy Boyd

Diane Black

The governor’s race features six Republican candidates, including Black, 67, from Gallatin, who has spent the last eight years in Congress representing the 6th District, which includes the northern Nashville suburbs and north-central Tennessee; Boyd, 58, from Knoxville, who made his fortune with a company that makes electronic fences for dogs and was an adviser to Haslam on education policy and economic development; and Lee, 58, owner of a heating and air company making his first run for political office.

Also running on the Republican side is State House Speaker Beth Harwell, 60, from Nashville, although polls showed her slightly behind the three candidates at the front of the pack. She has been in the legislature for 20 years, culminating in her selection as the first woman speaker in state history.

While President Donald Trump has waded into Republican governor primaries in Georgia and Tennessee, he did not offer an endorsement in Tennessee, something of a blow to Black, who, as chairwoman of the House Budget Committee, helped shepherd the Republicans’ tax cut bill through the House.

However, Black has been using video of Trump praising her in one of her TV ads, and she did get the endorsement of Vice President Mike Pence.

Haslam is term-limited and hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race. However, Boyd — who, like Haslam, is from Knoxville — has served in his administration, and the New York Times has reported that the Republican Governors Association, which Haslam chairs, has been lobbying Trump not to endorse Black. (The governor’s office has refused to confirm that report.)

Karl Dean

The winner of the Republican primary is expected to face former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is the favorite the three-way Democratic primary.

The fall race for governor will be a crowded affair, as 26 independents have qualified for the ballot, including 13 Libertarians. Because the Libertarian Party does not have official ballot access, the party has no primary, and all 13 candidates will appear on the ballot as independents.

In U.S. House races, Republicans will be settling contested primaries in four GOP-held districts in which the Republican winner will be favored in the fall.

In Duncan’s 2nd District seat, which includes metro Knoxville and surrounding portions of East Tennessee, the GOP race features Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett; State Rep. Jimmy Matlock from Lenior City; Jason Emert, a Bount County lawyer and former chairman of the Young Republicans National Federation; and Ashley Nickloes from Rockford, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Tennessee Air National Guard.

On the Democratic side, Renee Hoyos from Knoxville, former director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, is facing Joshua Williams, a Knoxville psychologist.

In the open race for Black’s 6th District seat, the Republican race includes John Rose from Cookeville, who served as state agriculture commissioner; Bob Corlew, a retired judge from Mount Juliet; and State Rep. Judd Matheny from Tullahoma.

Democrats running include Merrilie Winegar, a Methodist minister from Hendersonville; Pete Heffernan, a management consultant from Gallatin; and Dawn Barlow, a physician from Livingston.

In the open race for Blackburn’s 7th District seat, which includes Nashville’s southern suburbs and west-central Tennessee, State Senator Mark Green from Ashland City was the only Republican to file.

In 2017, Trump nominated Green, a physician and West Point graduate, to be Secretary of the Army, but Green withdrew the nomination amid controversy of some of his previous public statements, including an assertion in 2016 that most psychiatrists believe being transgendered is a “disease.” (The American Psychiatric Association does not classify gender non-conformity as a mental illness).

Democrats in the 7th District race include Justin Canew from College Grove, a digital media producer and two-time contestant on The Amazing Race, and Matt Reel from Primm Springs, a congressional aide who serves in the Tennessee National Guard.

In the 8th District, which includes part of Memphis city, its eastern suburbs and the Mississippi Delta, Kustoff, a former federal prosecutor from Germantown, who was elected in 2016, is facing a challenge from Flinn, a physician who also owns a string of 40 radio and television stations.

Flinn, who lost to Kustoff in the GOP primary in 2016, is making his fifth run for Congress, having run twice in the U.S. House in the 8th District, once in the Memphis-based 9th District and for the U.S. Senate in 2014. He has poured more than $3 million of his own money into the campaign, giving him a signficant fundraising advantage over Kustoff.

However, Kustoff is likely to benefit from a last-minute endorsement by Trump, whom he called “a champion for the Trump Agenda.”

The Democratic race in the 8th District is between John Boatner, a social worker from Shelby County, and Erika Stotts Pearson, the former assistant general manager of the WNBA’s Memphis Blues.

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