Lack of compelling races hurts early voter turnout in Tennessee

Lack of compelling races hurts early voter turnout in Tennessee
Lack of compelling races hurts early voter turnout in Tennessee

By Sam Stockard, Tennessee Lookout

November 1, 2022

Early turnout in the Nov. 8 election is nearly 45% lower so far than in 2018, largely because no statewide race demands voters’ attention, according to political experts.

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The Tennessee Secretary of State’s office reports that 536,639 people voted in the first 10 days of early voting, through Oct. 29, compared to 967,840 four years ago. The tally includes postal ballots.

Turnout started at 60,000 when early voting began and spiked towards the end of last week when a peak of 70,771 turned out to vote on Friday, according to the secretary of state’s report. Early voting ends Wednesday.

Find out what’s happening in Across Tennesseewith free real-time Patch updates.

However, this year’s numbers were significantly up from 2014’s turnout, when just 341,776 people cast their ballots early in the first 10 days of the election.

MTSU political scientist Kent Syler points out that the 2018 ballot had the gubernatorial race between Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean, a former mayor of Nashville, and the US Senate race between Republican US Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former two-term candidate. Mayor of Nashville and Governor of Tennessee. The Republican candidates won both races hands down.

“Millions and millions of dollars have been spent on political advertising in the media, and these types of races are driving interest and turnout,” political expert Kent Syler says of comparisons to the 2018 election cycle.

This year’s ballot contains no U.S. Senate races, although there are three contested congressional races involving Davidson County, two of which are attracting the most attention.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is seeking re-election against Democratic nominee Jason Martin, a Nashville doctor. And though Martin wears the Democratic mantle and campaigns fiercely, he doesn’t have a big campaign account — just $249,493 on hand at the end of the last reporting period — that could help him put a dent in it. in a red state where around 65% voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020.

“Millions and millions of dollars have been spent on political advertising in the media, and these types of races generate interest and participation,” says Kent Syler.

Trump’s nominees remain popular in Tennessee, but regardless, it’s hard for a newcomer to defeat an incumbent in a statewide race.

“If you look back at the history of governors running for a second term, they’re undefeated,” Syler says. “Generally, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, it’s been difficult to find a good candidate to run.”

Amassing funds and enthusiasm is difficult for the challenger, he points out. Martin brought in $1.1 million and spent $872,416 as of the end of September.

Lee, on the other hand, had $4.3 million in his campaign account and added $557,389 as of Sept. 30. He spent $1.4 million and had $3.5 million on hand.

The governor, who also had $4.58 million in self-approved loans, made at least two media buys for television political ads coinciding with early voting.

MTSU political scientist John Vile points out that the Democratic gubernatorial candidate has not bought any TV ads.

Usually a presidential election, a hotly contested gubernatorial race, like those in Pennsylvania and Georgia, or a hard-fought U.S. Senate campaign drives people to vote, Vile notes.
This year’s poll lacks what Vile calls a “flagship race” that draws large crowds.

Tennessee has four constitutional questions on the ballot, but while the issue of enshrining Tennessee’s Right to Work Act in the Constitution might be considered controversial, they don’t drive crowds to the polls, says Vile.

Middle Tennessee’s congressional districts were dramatically redrawn by the state legislature and split Davidson County into three seats, creating an opening.

“If you want to get into politics, the smartest thing to do is do it when there’s no incumbent,” Vile says.

For example, the 5th congressional district seat was vacated when longtime Democratic congressman Jim Cooper chose not to run, saying Republicans’ reshuffling of the district made it too difficult for him to be re-elected.

That ultimately paved the way for Republican Andy Ogles, former Maury County mayor, to defeat ex-House Speaker Beth Harwell and retired Tennessee National Guard Brig. General Kurt Winstead in the Republican primary. Ogles takes on Democratic State Senator Heidi Campbell in the general election.

Ogles has resumed public appearances in recent days after staying out of the spotlight at the start of the race. Still, Campbell brought in more money and bought TV ads in the race, likely cutting into what is considered a strong Republican district by national polling groups.

Vile notes that decades ago, one of Tennessee’s virtues was that Republican and Democratic politicians were moderates.

“Now, especially on the Republican side, not so much,” he adds.

Ogles and Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Green, who faces Democrat Odessa Kelly of Nashville in the race for the 7th congressional district, both say they want to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Despite these positions, Democrats are expected to struggle to win votes in these congressional districts, primarily due to the way they were drawn.

Green’s race is probably considered the most competitive simply because of the way the district was drawn, placing more urban Nashville voters in the 7th district. Green recently told the Tennessee Lookout that he thinks the redistricting is “inherently unfair.”

Meanwhile, Ogles’ campaign has opted out of running negative ads against Campbell, a sign he isn’t worried about the Democrat’s ability to overcome a wide Republican electoral margin in the district.

“He’s a heavyweight for Democrats right now in rural areas, especially Tennessee,” Syler says. “But this isn’t a Tennessee-only problem for Democrats. Democrats are struggling in rural areas across the country. »

While the minority party increased its membership in places such as Rutherford and Williamson between the 2016 and 2020 elections, it still has a long way to go, Syler says.

Now more than ever, tough and fair journalism is important. The Tennessee Lookout is your watchdog, telling the stories of politics and politics that affect the people of the Volunteer State.

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. Lack compelling races hurts early voter turnout Tennessee

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