Upset Watch List

Handicapping some potential surprises on this Election Day

Election odds and ends, things to watch for on election night, if there are any upsets in the offing it might be... ?

In the modern era, the only thing more certain than death and taxes is the re-election of Tennessee incumbents. But this year there are a few races that could surprise.

Congressman (her preference) Marsha Blackburn, from a suburb of Nashville, has a district that stretches from Middle Tennessee to Republican vote-rich suburban Shelby County. She was first elected when Shelby County and its environs produced a half-dozen candidates and split the vote. This time around she faces one candidate from Shelby County in a Republican primary—former state Sen. Tom Leatherwood. Add to that, news accounts have her son-in-law being a million-dollar lobbyist, and she paid her kids to do fundraising. Is Blackburn vulnerable? It's one to watch.

Congressman Steve Cohen, who is white, also owes his first term to a plethora of black candidates in his predominately black district. Despite his 96 percent vote rating by the NAACP and his success in getting the House to apologize for slavery and Jim Crow, Cohen faces Nikki Tinker, an attorney who ran second in Cohen's first race, and state Rep. Joe Towns Jr. Both are black. If Cohen survives this race, he may be in for long service. But he has to convincingly beat a strong black challenger to feel safe. While whites in America are deciding whether or not to vote for a black man for president, blacks in Cohen's district have to decide if they will vote for a white man—even a liberal with sterling civil rights credentials.

In upper East Tennessee, in the overwhelmingly Republican district from Sevier County to the Tri-Cities, first-term Congressman David Davis is seeking re-election. He also won a race where the votes were split among a half-dozen candidates. His core support among the Christian right gave him a plurality. He faces Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe in the Republican primary. Davis has worked hard to expand his base with constituent service, he has an experienced field director in Paul Chapman, and Davis gets around the district. Roe has the support of Davis' former opponents. Has Davis done enough to broaden his base?

If history is any guide, all these congressmen should win re-election. But there are factors in each race that scare their supporters.

State Rep. Stacy Campfield has a lot of enemies who want to see him beat. Up until now, they've all been outside his district. He is running hard this time because he is opposed by Ron Leadbetter, who has impeccable conservative credentials, agrees with Campfield on most issues, but offers not to be confrontational, make enemies, or do anything to embarrass the district. Leadbetter is given the best chance of beating Campfield of any opponent he has faced.

The Republican primary in Blount County has turned into one of the ugliest races of the season. State Sen. Raymond Finney won his first term in an upset in a low-turnout election against a heretofore popular state senator named Bill Claybough. But Claybough, a rising star in the state party hierarchy, got hung with the state income tax tag and he angered the Tennessee Right to Life group. The Tennessee Conservative Union and Tennessee Right to Life did independent ads and the anti-abortion group went house to house to elect Finney and shock the political establishment. Finney is opposed this time by Blount County state Rep. Doug Overby, an attorney with a good deal of establishment support. Finney is strongly anti-abortion but is an ardent environmentalist, creating cognitive dissonance among his supporters. Overby is one of the Republicans who regularly votes for Democratic Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, a litmus test for many Republican partisans. It is rare for a House member from the same party to try to unseat his Senate counterpart, but Overby may be able to pull it off. Overby got his House seat by challenging an incumbent Republican. (Check YouTube for Finney clips.)

I leave you with the old Chicago maxim, "It's election day. Don't forget to vote early and vote often."