Sifting through the rubble of last week’s election, looking for some nuggets:
• If you sum up last week’s Republican primary for governor there are a few numbers that pretty well explain it. Bill Haslam got 73 percent of the vote in his home county of Knox. Zach Wamp only got 60 percent of his home county of Hamilton. Haslam carried five counties in Wamp’s congressional district and was close in several others. Despite years of federal checks to Oak Ridge, delivered by Congressman Wamp, Haslam carried Anderson County.
Wamp counted on a huge Christian conservative vote in Shelby County to offset Haslam’s better-funded media buy in Memphis. They didn’t materialize. Haslam carried all-important Shelby 38,000 votes to 22,000 for Wamp. The flaw in Wamp’s plan is that 16,000 of those conservative votes went to Ron Ramsey.
• The Republican primary is an asset for Democrat Mike McWherter in that some hard feelings will remain within the party. McWherter also won’t have to do any opposition research—the Wamp campaign did it for him. But since it seemed to hurt Wamp more than Haslam, he also has to consider whether he wants to go there. Besides, Wamp has already put it out there, so McWherter doesn’t have to. But McWherter’s first post-primary ad focuses on his support for the guy buying gas and “not the guy that owns the oil company.”
The general election race may turn out to be which millionaire can claim to represent the “little guy” the best. It’s a cinch that neither guy will want to raise the state income tax issue, considering their family history.
McWherter can run to the right of Haslam, a strategy that will help in rural West Tennessee and, possibly upper East Tennessee. The Wamp and Ramsey totals added together, assuming they split the conservative base, out-polled Haslam. The problem for McWherter is that he also needs to appeal to his base—the urban Democrats and black Democrats that gave Harold Ford Jr. a huge turnout. If McWherter is perceived to be to the right of the moderate Haslam, will Democrats turn out to vote for him or show any enthusiasm for his campaign?
And the conservatives who voted for Wamp and Ramsey are usually the voters who will stay home with the Republican Party. The Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant voters in 2008 came around to vote for the more moderate Bob Corker. But Corker was running against a black candidate—a Ford from Memphis. McWherter might be able to appeal to some of them, especially the ones from East Tennessee who voted for his father, Ned.
• This election also points up the advantages of putting in a run-off for the top two candidates. In the gubernatorial primary, Haslam got 341,229 votes. Ramsey and Wamp together got 369,292 votes. It is a replay of 2008 when conservatives Bryant and Hilleary garnered more votes than Corker. There is no data to prove that the Ramsey and Wamp voters would all have voted for Wamp in a run-off. Many of them may have picked Haslam because they didn’t like Wamp’s personality. But then, a lot of people voted for Haslam because of his air of inevitability.
There is an example closer to home. Stacey Campfield is the Republican candidate for the state Senate’s 7th District, even though he only got 40 percent of the vote. Ron Leadbetter and Steve Hill together got 58 percent of the vote. Leadbetter was second at 36 percent. Who would the Hill voters likely have voted for in a run-off? (Ironically, Campfield has also voiced support for run-offs.)
We do have a run-off in Knox County—in school board races. In the primary, Roy Mullins got 45 percent of the vote and Mike McMillan got 27 percent out in the east end of the county. In the run-off, McMillan won 53 percent to 46 percent for Mullins.
In the primary in South Knoxville, Pam Trainor got 33 percent of the vote and Robert Bratton was close behind at 29 percent. But in the run-off, the voters were clear. Trainor won by a two-to-one margin.
Locally and statewide, we continue to elect people to office who did not receive the support of the majority of the voters.