Are there any bright spots for Tennessee Democrats come November, given the results of the last election with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket? Yes, there are at least three state House seats, one of them in Knoxville, that are at least possibilities.
In redistricting, state Rep. Harry Tindell’s seat could have been drawn much more Republican than it is; there is less than a 10 percent differential of Republican to Democrat. We have been told the Republicans did not want to hammer Tindell, because he is a nice guy. (They just hammered him enough to get him to retire.) It would be more accurate to say the Republicans in the Knox delegation grabbed off as many Republicans from Tindell’s new district as they could for their own districts, leaving the Tindell seat with fewer Republicans and them with fewer Democrats.
Gloria Johnson, chair of the Knox County Democratic Party, is running and her opponent is Republican Gary Loe. The crucial question for this race is who will vote? In recent years the largest Democratic turnout in Knoxville was the Democratic primary pitting Obama against Hillary Clinton.
If the Democrats in Knoxville turn out in droves to vote for Obama, it could mean a really healthy turnout for Johnson. There are no really hot local races to fire up Republicans. I don’t think they are worried about U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., losing his race.
Across most of the state, Obama at the top of the ticket is going to cause problems for Democrats down the ballot. Even some veteran Democratic House members in rural West Tennessee might be in trouble. But in Knoxville, urban Democrats are more likely to vote heavily for the president’s re-election.
It is possible that the Republicans in the Johnson-Loe race will also turn out in droves to vote against Obama. But I don’t sense a lot of excitement for Mitt Romney.
The controversy over the Belle Morris voting precinct being closed has also fired up a lot of Democrats, who blame the Republican-dominated Election Commission for closing the largest Democratic voting site in the city. It has little to do with the House race, but it is the kind of issue that can motivate turnout.
Loe is just now having fund-raisers that he should have had last month. He has been plugging away, but he is not a dynamic personality. The House Republican Caucus may have assumed that the district would be favorable to the Republican and have overlooked it. But House Speaker Beth Harwell is coming to town for a luncheon fund-raiser for Loe.
Johnson’s friend Scott Miller has secured the help of Emmylou Harris for a fund-raiser, in Nashville. It will be interesting to see who raises the most money.
There are two other House races where former House members are trying for a comeback.
In Greene County, state Rep. David Hawk was arrested for assaulting his wife. Three opponents split the majority of the vote in the Republican primary, allowing Hawk to squeak in with a plurality. He is being challenged by former state Rep. Eddie Yokley, a likable Democrat who served four terms in the House in a district that used to include part of Greene and also Cocke County.
Who has more baggage in the election? Yokley has Obama at the top of the ticket in a rural, small-town East Tennessee county. Hawk spent a night in jail.
I rate it a toss-up.
Over in Oak Ridge, Republican state Rep. John Ragan is being challenged by the Democrat he beat for the job, former Rep. Jim Hackworth. I think Ragan, a blunt-talking retired fighter pilot, holds on to the seat, but it is a place where Democrats can spend some resources and have a chance for an upset.
Aside from these three races, I might put down a long-shot bet on Scott Price, a Democrat running against Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny. Matheny, who sponsors bills against the threat of “Sharia Law,” has announced he will challenge Speaker Harwell for not being conservative enough. The district has a good many Democrats, and some Republicans may be disenchanted with Matheny.