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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.
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
(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.