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The Primary Effects of Nov. 5

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Aug 9, 2010

The primary has ended and the general election campaigning has begun. What do yesterday's results tell us about November and beyond? Here are some things to consider.

First, how will the competitive Republican primary for the 8th Congressional District affect the general election? Democrat Roy Herron sits atop a $1.2 million war chest while the Republicans' coffers are empty. However, the national parties are targeting the race so the GOP nominee will raise money easily, and outside groups are already promising to run ads against Herron.

The bigger problem for Herron is that the Republicans have used the summer to set the campaign agenda on size of government and Obama/Pelosi. If Herron cannot change the terms of the debate, he is in trouble. Plus, the GOP nominee has created a districtwide organization that is battle tested, the competitive primary has seasoned the previously inexperienced nominee, and the nominee has well developed campaign themes.

Second, will the 27th State Senate district heat up? Everyone likes Lowe Finney, but he is a Democrat representing a Republican district in a Republican year, making him very vulnerable. Yet so far, the two Republicans are not generating much heat in terms of visibility or money raised. Regardless, Finney's goal is to make the race about him. If the race is about Democrats, he will lose. Finney's one ace in the hole, though, may be the coattails of local gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter.

Third, how large was the Republican turnout, which may indicate the size of the Republican wave in November? Using 2002 and 2006 as baselines, because they were midterm elections with competitive statewide Republican primaries (but noncompetitive Democratic primaries), primary voters split approximately 50-50 statewide and 2-to-1 in favor of Democrats in the 8th Congressional District.

If 55 percent of Tennessee voters or higher vote in the Republican gubernatorial primary, or there is an even split in the 8th Congressional District, that spells trouble for Democrats. The high turnout would suggest energized Republicans, depressed Democrats and/or Democratic desertions to the GOP. The size of the wave matters because Herron could survive a small wave in his Democratic leaning district, but a large wave would topple him, wipe out Lowe Finney running against a weak Republican candidate and end Democratic hopes for retaking the state House.

Fourth, how well did the tea party do? The tea party needs to win elections to have an impact. So, if Ron Ramsey wins the gubernatorial nomination and Jim Harding the 27th state Senate District nomination, the tea party had a good night in West Tennessee.

Finally, do tea parties continue to shape the political debate? Many Republicans have adopted the tea party agenda for the primaries. The three major Republicans in the 8th Congressional District — Fincher, Flinn and Kirkland — are a perfect example. But as the general election begins, candidates are likely to emphasize issues that appeal to the centrist voter. If Republicans de-emphasize the tea party agenda and promote more moderate stands, it shows the limited appeal and impact of the tea party.

This article originally appeared in the August 6 edition of the Jackson Sun