State Republicans are reveling in winning a hard-fought election campaign for the U.S. Senate, but the numbers reveal cause for concern going forward.
In Tennessee, Trump country is, well, the country. The big four counties, home to Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville, gave Marsha Blackburn 316,067 votes in the U.S. Senate race. The same four counties gave Phil Bredesen 505,058 votes. The big cities gave Bredesen almost 200,000 more votes than Blackburn.
The difference was rural counties and small towns, where Blackburn got a 65 percent to 75 percent margin that led to an 11 percent margin in winning the seat. The divide between the cities and the country is deep and wide.
Should Republicans be concerned about their red-to-the-roots status in the state? Nashville is growing at a horrifying, Atlanta-like rate. Knoxville and Chattanooga gave Bredesen 48 percent and 49 percent respectively. Shelby has long contained the most Democrats and gave Bredesen the most votes of any county, 17,000 more than Davidson. And Shelby County Republicans are moving over the state line to DeSoto County in Mississippi, increasing the percentage of the Democratic vote in Memphis.
If Knoxville and Chattanooga turn purple instead of red and a Republican running statewide wins the small towns and rural areas by only a small margin, it could be trouble for the GOP. Blackburn’s hugging President Trump got the rural and suburban vote and drove turnout. But it also cost her a lot of votes in the cities, like Knoxville and Chattanooga.
Is there another Democrat – make that another Bredesen – who can carry the cities without alarming the countryside and pull off a win? I don’t know who that Democrat could be, but continued growth in the major cities could create a path to victory for the Democrats.
How do we explain the close margin in the Senate race in the East Tennessee cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga? It comes down to the candidate. East Tennessee has produced statewide officeholders like Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker and Bill Haslam. These Republicans are not fire-breathing conservatives, and they are not avid Trump supporters. Blackburn did not win because she is on the far right; she won in spite of it. The close margin of control of the U.S. Senate drove state voters to help keep a Republican senate. But in Chattanooga and Knoxville, some traditional East Tennessee voters just couldn’t vote for Blackburn.
Reduce Resources: I was struck by the contrast in the Sentinel one day last week. An Op-Ed lamented the shortage of teachers and urged that more young people be encouraged to take up teaching as a career. Meanwhile, there was a story about the Knox County school system offering buyouts to an estimated 350 teachers to get them to retire. The theory is that higher-paid teachers who retire can be replaced by entry-level teachers who are paid less, and the school system saves money. There has also been a longstanding problem for Knox County in that teachers leave for Oak Ridge or Maryville for more money.
The Ad Game: The majority of the upward of $80 million spent on Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race went to the state’s broadcast television stations. I heard some moron contending that the TV stations did not make out like bandits because the political campaigns negotiated lower rates than regular advertisers. What? There are only a certain number of spots available. If the political campaigns want on the air they pay the rate – the highest rate. The drawbacks for television stations are not reduced revenue. The problem is that regular advertisers can’t get on, and they have to be wooed back after the election. Also, station managers are supposed to increase revenues each year. If you have a windfall like a piece of $80 million this year, the corporate overlords may still want you to exceed that number next year.
It’s on the GOP: I get tired of hearing complaints from Republicans about the Democratic election commissioner Brenda Snipes down in Broward County, Fla. She couldn’t get the votes counted for going on two weeks after the election. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her, and Gov. Rick Scott didn’t file suit to replace her despite chronic election screw-ups. Scott had to hang on and hope before he was finally declared the winner in the U.S. Senate race. Perhaps the new Republican governor can do something about the mess that is the Florida voting process.
Frank Cagle is a retired newspaperman. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.