Will Haslam Lead a GOP Tide that Drowns Down-Ballot Democrats?

Is it too early to start planning the Gov. Bill Haslam inauguration?

I know Mike McWherter says he has Haslam just where he wants him, and he is going to start television advertising just any day now, but he seems to be the only one who thinks there is still a race for governor.

McWherter's lackluster campaign is bad news for Democrats in general. They do not need a Haslam landslide on top of what is predicted to be a Republican "wave" election this November.

The Democrats have also pretty well given up on keeping Congressman Bart Gordon's seat. Gordon's retirement opened up the seat in a district of suburban Nashville counties that has been trending Republican for years.

If you are looking for signs of a Republican "wave," look to the west. The retirement of Congressman John Tanner opened up another Democratic seat, but this one is rural West Tennessee, traditionally a Democratic stronghold. If veteran state Sen. Roy Herron can't beat Republican newbie Stephen Fincher, it will be a really bad night for Democrats.

The Democrats lost the state House in 2008 due in part to an anemic turnout for Democrats who were not thrilled with Barack Obama. This was especially true in rural West Tennessee. To win these seats back, the Democrats need to get their voters to the polls and win independents.

If Haslam wins big across the state it may depress Democratic turnout. McWherter's conservative campaign is not exciting the base, which also may decrease turnout. Or prompt some Democrats to vote for Haslam.

If state Sen. Diane Black wins big in Gordon's congressional district it will mean a huge turnout of Republican voters in those counties, hurting state Democratic House candidates.

If McWherter and Herron do not get out a huge Democratic vote in rural west it will be hard for Democrats to reclaim the lost seats there.

A big Haslam victory and a Republican wave may mean a pickup of several House seats for the Republicans, but the falling dominoes don't stop there.

House Speaker Kent Williams won the post by getting all the Democratic members' votes and voting for himself in a House in which the Republicans had only a one-vote advantage. If the Republicans pick up a half-dozen additional seats, the race for speaker will be wide open.

There are a half dozen Republican House members who long to be speaker.

The questions?

• Will the Democrats all support Williams' re-election since he has given them some of the committee chairs and they know another Republican will not? If they stick with him, then Williams will need some Republicans to vote with him to retain his chair. He likely has three Republicans who will stay with him, but if the Republican margin in the House is bigger than three, someone else will win.

• Will another Republican faction make a deal with the Democrats to put themselves in power? Not likely. Not enough trust among the members to hold together a coalition.

• Will infighting among House Republicans create factions, preventing any one of them from putting together a ruling majority? There will be a big fight, but through a process of elimination one will emerge. It's likely the prospect of gaining complete control will bring the Republicans together.

If the Republicans pick up a couple of seats, the status quo may be maintained with Williams as speaker and the House committee chair and membership evenly divided. If the Republicans win big and pick up a lot of additional seats, then the next speaker will likely be elected only with Republican votes, all the committee chairs will be Republicans, and the Democrats will be completely shut out of power.

After the November election, the real politicking starts.