Tenn. Governor Lee eyeing Democrat Martin in his re-election bid

Tenn. Governor Lee eyeing Democrat Martin in his re-election bid
Tenn. Governor Lee eyeing Democrat Martin in his re-election bid

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Jason Martin has spent more than two years trying to get Governor Bill Lee’s attention in Tennessee – first, as an intensive care doctor urging more action against the COVID pandemic -19, and now, as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate trying to unseat the Republican.

To date, Lee has yet to acknowledge that he even has a challenger in his quest for re-election. The two have not spoken, according to Martin, and that is unlikely to change before Election Day.

Lee, who rides consistently strong polls in a state that favors the GOP, is taking a calculated approach to winning a second term and has paid no attention to his Democratic opponent. He’s put a big fundraising advantage by rolling out statewide television ads that tout his first four years in office, not to mention that Tennesseans have a choice on the ballot. He declined to debate Martin, saying he’s too busy running the state.

“The Republican strategy is, ‘don’t let anyone go to your right.’ (Lee) was able to avoid opposition in the primary and now he expects easy re-election,” said Kent Syler, professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University.

Lee sidestepped a primary challenge with a series of measures on tried and true Conservative issues, including backing a law on carrying handguns without a license and endorsing sweeping restrictions on abortion. On heated topics that have taken off more recently, he signed laws that target transgender people, shifted his focus to the hot topic of crime midway through his priorities for criminal justice reform, and endorsed restrictions against certain discussion of race and sexuality in schools.

“Parents now have a say in what is taught and what is not,” Lee said in a campaign ad. “And kids learn valuable skills, without the divisive politics.”

Martin, meanwhile, said he hopes to make the kind of foray into rural Tennessee that has long challenged state Democrats, leaving them without a seat in the governor’s office for more than a decade. He said he believes the path to winning the governor’s race “goes through red Tennessee, goes straight through rural communities.”

“I think previous campaigns have focused a lot of resources and training on cities, and Democrats are going to try to increase the numbers in cities. The math is not there,” Martin told the Rotary Club of Nashville recently. “You can’t win with a message that only appeals to the big five cities in the state of Tennessee.”

Martin first got into the race by criticizing Lee’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in Tennessee, where a statewide mask mandate was never enacted. Martin has since stopped making it his primary focus.

To date, researchers at Johns Hopkins University say Tennessee has recorded about 28,000 COVID-19-related deaths. At the end of October, this number of deaths was the 12th highest in the whole country and the sixth highest per capita.

While speaking in front of the crowd, Martin admitted that a year ago he wouldn’t have said the gubernatorial race was winnable for a Democrat in such a ruby-red state. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the constitutional right to abortion has changed things, he said. In particular, Martin hopes to win over Tennessean voters by discovering to their dismay that the state’s strict abortion ban does not explicitly exempt those performed to save a mother’s life.

To date, Lee has played down concerns that the current prohibition language surrounding exemptions has caused confusion and fear in the medical community. As a vocal opponent of abortion, Lee argued that doctors can use “their best judgment” to save a mother’s life.

“My feeling and my understanding of the law is that it exists now,” Lee told reporters earlier this summer.

Martin says Lee’s statement means one of two things, one of which would be “painful.”

“First, he doesn’t know what he signed. Or two, he’s not being honest with you. And anyway, in my opinion, he is not qualified to be governor,” Martin said.

Lee also drew criticism after refusing to refute comments by Hillsdale President Larry Arnn, who claimed earlier this year that teachers “are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges” during a reception which the Republican attended. Lee has since distanced himself from Hillsdale’s attempt to expand its affiliated charter schools in Tennessee, but has remained a strong advocate for school choice.

Martin also said that as governor he would file a lawsuit challenging a law that requires lawmakers’ approval to expand Medicaid in Tennessee under former President Barack Obama’s health care law. . Lee opposed the expansion of Medicaid, saying the current program is flawed and adding more money would not solve these problems. His administration led an overhaul of how Tennessee’s Medicaid program is funded and managed. President Joe Biden’s administration has requested changes to the program, which former President Donald Trump’s team has approved.

Lee beat a Democratic opponent by 21 percentage points in 2018 after coming out of a deadly Republican primary. Tennessee’s last Democratic governor was Phil Bredesen, who served from 2003 to 2011.

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Follow AP coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.

. tenn governor lee looks democrat martin in candidacy re-election

. Tenn Governor Lee eyeing Democrat Martin reelection bid

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