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U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander will retire in 2020

Decision sets up a open Senate race in Tennessee for the second election cycle in a row

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has announced he will not seek re-election in 2020, bringing down the curtain on a political career that has spanned five decades and setting up another high-octane contest for an open Senate seat in Tennessee.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

“The people of Tennessee have been very generous, electing me to serve more combined years as Governor and Senator than anyone else from our state,” Alexander said in a statement announcing his retirement. ” I am deeply grateful, but now it is time for someone else to have that privilege.”

“I have gotten up every day thinking that I could help make our state and country a little better, and gone to bed most nights thinking that I have. I will continue to serve with that same spirit during the remaining two years of my term.”

Alexander’s decision means that Tennessee will have an open Senate contest for the second election cycle in a row. His longtime seatmate, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, did not seek re-election this year.

The contest will likely draw a large field, particularly on the Republican side. Among candidates being mentioned are outgoing Republican Governor Bill Haslam and two unsuccessful GOP candidates for governor in 2018, U.S. Rep. Diane Black and Randy Boyd.

Given the result of the 2018 Senate election — which Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn won by 11 points — the GOP candidate will be heavily favored. No Democrat has won a Senate race in Tennessee since Al Gore in 1990.

Alexander, 78, is serving his third term in the Senate and chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where he has been a key player in Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Alexander’s service in political office began in 1978, when he was elected governor on his second try. During that campaign, he walked more than 1,000 miles across the entire length of Tennessee to meet voters, wearing a red-and-black flannel shirt that became his trademark.

After leaving the governorship in 1987, Alexander became president of the University of Tennessee, a post he left in 1991 when he was named education secretary by President George H.W. Bush.

Alexander ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in both 1996 and 2000. In 2002, he was elected to the Senate and was easily re-elected in 2008 and 2014.

He is the only Tennessean ever elected as both governor and senator, and his 2008 vote total — 1.58 million votes — still stands the largest ever recorded by a statewide candidate.

In the Senate, Alexander had a conservative voting record but was also willing to work with Democratic colleagues on bipartisan measures. He drew a Tea Party challenger in his primary in 2014, Joe Carr, but won easily after getting the backing of the entire state GOP establishment.

Unlike Corker, Alexander has not been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, although he did publicly criticize the president’s executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly-Muslim countries and opposed a program to separate migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Alexander is also a trained pianist who has performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

The Tennessee seat will be one of 12 Southern Senate seats open in 2020, 10 of which are held by Republicans. Alexander is so far the only Southern incumbent to announce his retirement.

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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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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.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam won’t run for U.S. Senate; U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is in

Haslam’s decision portends wide open, crowded GOP primary race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CNN) — Outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam has decided not to seek Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2018, which means the chase for the GOP nomination will likely be fought out among a crowded slate of candidates without his statewide electoral experience.

As Haslam announced he wouldn’t run, a veteran member of the Volunteer State’s U.S. House delegation, Marsha Blackburn from Brentwood, announced that she was would seek the Republican nomination for the seat being vacated after two terms by the retiring U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

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

In her announcement video, Blackburn — describing herself as a “hardcore card-carrying Tennessee conservative” with a gun in her purse — offered a full-throated blast at sitting senators in her own party.

“The fact that our majority in the U.S. Senate can’t overturn Obamacare, or will not overturn Obamacare, it’s a disgrace,” she said. “Too many Senate Republicans act like Democrats or worse, and that’s what we have to change.”

Blackburn, 65, was first elected in 2002 to represent Tennessee’s 7th District, which takes in Nashville’s southern suburbs and the west-central part of the state. She served on President Trump’s transition team after his election in 2016.

After Corker announced his retirement on September 26, the attention in Tennessee political circles turned to Haslam, who is term-limited in 2016 but retains strong approval ratings after eight years in office. The governor is also a billionaire, thanks to his family’s truck stop business, which would have given him considerable personal financial resources to bring to a Senate race.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

But announcing his decision not to run on Twitter, Haslam said a Senate run “would be a distraction” during his last 15 months as governor.

“I want to remain completely focused on my job,” he said. “At the end of my term, I will have been in public office for 15 years. I feel like I can be most helpful in my next service as a private citizen.”

Haslam, 59, was mayor of Knoxville before being elected governor in 2010. He was re-elected in 2014 with 70 percent of the vote.

Corker’s departure creates a wide open field on the Republican side that is likely to become a battle between the party’s establishment and populist factions. Among those considering the race are former State Rep. Joe Carr, who waged an unsuccessful attempt to oust U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander in 2014, and State Senator Mark Green, whom Trump nominated as Secretary of the Army earlier this year.

Green later withdrew his nomination after controversy arose over his past derogatory statements about transgendered people and Muslims.

Blackburn is so far the only member of the House delegation to jump into the Senate race, although former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, who left the House in 2017 after serving three terms, is considering a run.

The only Democrat in the race so far is James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Iraq war veteran, although Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke may also be considering a run. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the last Democrat to win a statewide race in Tennessee back in 2006, has bowed out.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore was re-elected. But the unexpected opening created by Corker’s retirement creates a vacancy that could help Democrats as they try to claw their way back into the Senate majority.

Six Southern states will select Senators in 2018, and incumbents are expected to run in all but Tennessee — Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia. The seats in Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia are held by Democrats; Texas and Mississippi are held by Republicans.

Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker won’t seek re-election in 2018

Departure of former Chattanooga mayor sets off scramble for suddenly vacant Senate seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee has announced that he won’t seek re-election to a third term in 2018, setting off what’s likely to be a high-octane battle between establishment and populist Republicans vying to succeed him, along with providing a possible opening for Democrats.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker

“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms,” Corker said in a statement announcing his retirement. “Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me.”

In his statement, Corker also made this oblique reference that will likely set off much rumination over what he meant: “The most important public service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months, and I want to be able to do that as thoughtfully and independently as I did the first 10 years and nine months of my Senate career.”

Corker, 65, served four years as mayor of Chattanooga before being elected to the Senate in 2006 to replace the retiring Bill Frist, after a hard-fought race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. He was re-elected in 2012 with 65 percent of the vote, and became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2015.

Had he sought re-election, Corker would have been the prohibitive favorite in 2018, but he would also have faced a primary challenge from the populist wing of the GOP, whose activists are expected to target a number of Senators in the Republican leadership in 2018.

Corker made headlines in August when he told a local television station in Chattanooga that President Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

Trump responded with a Tweet: “Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in ’18. Tennessee not happy!”

Corker’s departure creates a wide open field on the Republican side that is likely to become a battle between the party’s establishment and populist factions. Among those considering the race are former State Rep. Joe Carr, who waged an unsuccessful attempt to oust U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander in 2014, and State Senator Mark Green, whom Trump nominated as Secretary of the Army earlier this year.

Green later withdrew his nomination after controversy arose over his past derogatory statements about transgendered people and Muslims.

Among the establishment Republicans being mentioned are U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, from Williamson County near Nashville, and outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam from Knoxville, who is term limited in the governorship in 2018.

The only Democrat in the race so far is James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Iraq war veteran. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the last Democrat to win a statewide race in Tennessee back in 2006, has said he does not plan to run.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore was re-elected. But the unexpected opening created by Corker’s retirement creates a vacancy that could help Democrats as they try to claw their way back into the Senate majority.

Six Southern states will select Senators in 2018, and incumbents are expected to run in all but Tennesse — Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia. The seats in Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia are held by Democrats; Texas and Mississippi are held by Republicans.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black will run for Tennessee governor in 2018

House Budget Committee chair is now the third woman vying for her state’s top job

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — U.S. Rep.  Diane Black will give up the chairmanship of the powerful House Budget Committee to make a run for Tennessee’s open governorship in 2018.

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

In an announcement video posted August 2, Black burnished her conservative bona fides as she prepares to battle two other Republican women also vying to be the first female governor in state history.

“In Tennessee, we’re conservative, and we do things the right way, no matter what Hollywood or Washington thinks about it,” Black said. “We believe in absolute truths — right is right, wrong is wrong, truth is truth, God is God, and a life is a life. And we don’t back down from any of it.”

And although, as a committee chairman, Black is part of the House GOP leadership team, she also touted her independence, insisting that “I wasn’t afraid to stand up to the weak-kneed people in my own party when I had to.”

“I believe in secure borders and tough choices in cutting spending and beating the liberals instead of caving in to them.”

Black, 66, who worked as a nurse before getting involved in politics, served in both houses of the Tennessee legislature before winning her seat in Congress, representing the Volunteer State’s 6th District. She became chair of the budget committee earlier this year when former chair Tom Price left to join President Trump’s Cabinet.

Her decision to run for governor opens up what is likely to be a lively Republican primary in the 6th District, which stretches from Nashville’s eastern suburbs across a swath of north-central Tennessee. The district is heavily Republican, making a Democratic pickup of the open seat unlikely.

The governorship is open in 2018 because incumbent Republican Governor Bill Haslam is term-limited.

For the last 220 years, every Tennessee governor has been a man. But Black is now the third prominent Republican woman in the governor’s race, joining State Senator Mae Beavers from Mt. Juliet, who has been in the Senate since 2002,  and State House Speaker Beth Harwell from Nashville, who in 2011 became the first female House speaker in state history.

Two businessmen are also in the GOP race: Randy Boyd from Knoxville, who owns two minor league baseball teams and served as an adviser to Haslam, and Bill Lee, a Franklin rancher who owns a home services company.

On the Democratic race, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is running and may face State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, who is considering a run.

While Tennessee has trended Republican in recent presidential elections and Republicans dominate the state’s congressional delegation, neither party has been able to win the governorship for more than two terms in a row since Democrats did so in 1966.

Analysis: Midterms a show of woe for Southern Democrats

GOP has a particularly strong showing in the upper South, where Democrats have recently been competitive

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm

(CFP) — One look at a color-coded map of midterm election results in any Southern state tells the story – there’s a tsunami of red and a shrinking pool of blue.

Take Texas, for example, with its 254 counties. Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn carried 236 of them; the Republican candidate for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, carried 235. The only blue is found in Dallas, El Paso, Austin and along the Mexican border.

But that’s still more blue than in Oklahoma, where both Republican U.S. Senate candidates swept all 77 counties, and in West Virginia, where GOP Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito swept all 55, despite the fact that Democrats have a 350,000-person lead in voter registration.

A deeper look at the numbers from the midterm elections shows just how far Democrats have fallen from the halcyon days when they had an iron grip on the solid South. They’re not just losing; lately, they’re not even competitive.

And perhaps even more troubling for Democrats is the fact that the dam seems to have burst in states in the upper South, where the party had been holding its own at the state level.

This year, 13 of 14 Southern states — all but Florida — had a U.S. Senate election, and two states — Oklahoma and South Carolina — had two. Setting aside Louisiana, which is headed to a runoff, and Alabama, which Democrats didn’t even bother to contest, GOP candidates won by an average of nearly 21 points.

Democrats couldn’t crack 30 percent in either Oklahoma race. They failed to crack 40 percent in six others. In fact, Republicans won by double digits in 10 races. Only Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina were close, with the GOP taking the latter two.

Things were just about as bad in races for governor, where the GOP margin of victory was about 18 percent. Republicans won by double digits in six of the eight governor’s races. Only Florida and Georgia were even remotely close.

The news was particularly bad for Democrats in three upper South states that were politically competitive a decade ago – West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee.

In West Virginia, Democrats not only lost the U.S. Senate race, but they lost all three U.S. House seats, and Republicans took control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1931.

With Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor’s loss, Arkansas will have an all-Republican congressional delegation for the first time since Reconstruction. Heading into the election, Democrats held five out of the seven statewide constitutional officers. In the midterm, they lost all seven.

Tennessee used to be split between Republicans in the east and Democrats in the west. Now, the GOP is winning everywhere, holding seven of the state’s nine U.S. House seats. Both Alexander and Governor Bill Haslam, re-elected with 71 percent of the vote, carried Shelby County, which includes the Democratic bastion of Memphis.

Increasingly, Democrats seem to be doing better in the deep South, where they can rely on the support of black voters, than in the upper South, where black populations are smaller.

For example, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, despite being a long-time incumbent in a very red state, won by a smaller margin than did Republican Tom Cotton, who beat Pryor like a rug in Arkansas.

Some might attribute Graham’s narrower margin to his Tea Party problems. But Alexander — who faced a similar Tea Party dynamic — managed to win by 30 points in Tennessee.

What is clear from the midterms is that despite recent gains at the presidential level in states such as North Carolina and Virginia, Democrats are becoming less competitive across the region, and the South is becoming more monolithically red.

Indeed, the midterm results support the argument that in most of the South, the two-party system is becoming a relic of the past.

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