By Jim Ellis
Aug. 4, 2017 — For the second time this week, a Volunteer State Republican seat came open for the succeeding election. Following Rep. Jimmy Duncan’s (R-Knoxville) retirement announcement in the state’s 2nd District, House Budget Committee chair Diane Black (R-Gallatin) declared her candidacy for governor, thus opening her 6th District for the 2018 campaign.
In an announcement video (see above) that left no doubt she will be campaigning as a strong conservative, Rep. Black attempted to neutralize what may be her most glaring negative … that she is a member of the US House. In her one minute, 46-second video announcement, the congresswoman emphasizes the work she’s done for Tennessee and makes clear that she will use intense rhetoric to convey her positions, such as opposing “the weak-kneed people in her own party.” Professing to be like most Tennesseans, Rep. Black says she is among the majority who “do things the right way, no matter what Hollywood or Washington thinks about it.”
Rep. Black joins an open Republican governor’s field that includes state House Speaker Beth Harwell, state Sen. Mae Beavers, former state Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, business owners Bill Lee and Kay White, and entertainer Mark “Coonrippy” Brown. Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, so far, comprise the Democratic contingent. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.
The 6th District is commonly known as the “Middle Tennessee” seat, since it sits in the state’s central part, beginning at the Kentucky border and encompassing most of the territory between Nashville and Knoxville without capturing any part of either city. It then dips south to annex the Manchester and Tullahoma areas in the vicinity of Arnold Air Force base. TN-6 is a safely Republican seat, voting 73-24 percent for President Trump. Mitt Romney carried the district, 69-29 percent, against President Obama in 2012.
We can expect a lively GOP primary here, in one of the few southern states that does not use a partisan run-off system. Therefore, as in most states, one can win a party nomination with just a vote plurality. Tennessee is also the only domain that holds its state and federal primary election on a Thursday.
In anticipation of Rep. Black running for governor, state Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) had previously announced his congressional candidacy. Secretary of State Tre Hargett is a potential Republican US House contender as are political commentator Scottie Neil Hughes and former state Agriculture Commissioner John Rose. State Reps. William Lamberth (R-Portland) and Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) are also considered possible congressional candidates. At this point, no Democratic names have yet surfaced.
With the Duncan and Black announcements this week, there are currently 18 open seats heading into the regular election cycle, eleven of which are Republican held. Additionally, the UT-3 seat is in special election and will be filled in November after the imminent Aug. 15 primary.
Within the 18 incumbent-less districts for 2018, little competition exists. Only three seats (FL-27; Ros-Lehtinen-R, MN-1; Walz-D; and NV-3; Rosen-D) can be considered early toss-ups in an open configuration. One CD (NM-2; Pearce-R) can be placed in a “lean” category, meaning the remaining 14 are considered either safe or likely to remain with the current controlling party.