Democrats are currently celebrating they get to face Roy Moore in December in Alabama but they also are debating how much of a shot they have to flip Bob Corker’s ruby red Senate seat. On Tuesday, Corker announced he would not seek reelection. Though he had been toying with the idea for months, few thought he would.
It is important to consider looking at recent elections to assess Democratic chances in the state. The last Democrat to win a partisan statewide election was Governor Phil Bredesen, He was term-limited out in 2010. The same year, Bob Corker won a narrow reelection with almost 51 percent against Harold Ford who received 47 percent. The best a Democratic Senate candidate has done since then is 32 percent.
Of course, this is now an open seat so Democrats can probably do better. They also have an appealing candidate reminiscent of Ford in James Mackler, a veteran who has raised almost $500K. His biography is appealing to voters of many different ideologies.
Corker had attracted the ire of the Steve Bannon and Breitbart. Bannon had vowed to spend heavily to defeat Corker. But, Corker had hinted for some time he was considering leaving and his decision this early opens up the floodgates for more established candidates to decide.
The top candidate currently considering is Marsha Blackburn. Blackburn currently represents the Central Tennessee based 7th District in Congress and has never faced a serious reelection. She’s conservative, a woman, and would be hard to beat in a GOP primary or general election.
The outsider candidate supposedly credited with driving Corker out was the former state head of the Americans for Prosperity is Andy Ogles. While he has outsider backing to date he has received little outside support and has limited electoral backing.
As indicated above, Democrats have had a tough time in Tennessee of late. The last Democrat to carry it at the federal level was Bill Clinton in 1996. Like many Southern states, Democrats maintained a majority in the state legislature until the late 2000’s. But, like many other states, the shift to the red team down-ballot came quickly.
In 1996, Republicans narrowly took control of the state senate even as Bill Clinton was carrying the state. Democrats would retake the chamber in 1997 and hold it narrowly until 2005 and have held it since (a nominal Independent split the chamber in 2006 and 2008).
The State House was the foundation of Democratic dominance in the state. Until 2008, the party had a healthy majority in the chamber. But as successful as 2008 was for Democrats in Tennessee the GOP took the State House for the first time since 1969. However, in a strange turn of events, Kent Williams colluded with Democrats to be elected Speaker over another opponent and gave Democrats plum committee assignments. In turn, he was stripped of his party affiliation and nominally became an Independent. In 2010 and 2012, the GOP expanded their majorities to 30 plus seats.
As for the Congressional delegation, after 2010 redistricting the state has settled into a 7R-2D House delegation. Redistricting is not to blame for the shift though as long-time moderate Democrats retired and their districts turned redder in the age of Obama.
All this paints a grim picture for Democrats next year. Especially when one considers the party has better targets in Nevada, Arizona and arguably Texas. Plus, Democrats will be spending quite a bit of money playing defense. All this seems to indicate Democrats wound need everything to break their way for success even with Corker retiring.