By Jim Ellis
Aug. 3, 2018 — Often in politics when two candidates begin to square off against each other in a multi-candidate field, that pair loses and an opponent coming from the outside walks away with the prize. That model again happened last night in the Tennessee Republican primary.
Businessman Bill Lee, the only candidate with no governmental experience, took advantage of his late polling surge and captured the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Thursday’s Volunteer State primary election. Lee’s victory was substantial, winning a 37-24-23-15 percent over businessman and former state Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, US Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin), and state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville). Lee will now oppose former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who easily won the Democratic gubernatorial primary with 75 percent of the vote.
The open governor’s primary had been hotly contested. Rep. Black and Boyd had been leading in most polls, but Lee had made a major final push and became a late factor in the race. Most surveys had Rep. Black holding a slight advantage, but the polls had been hovering within the polling margin of error for several weeks. We saw that play out last night.
Voter turnout heavily favored the Republicans to the point of more than doubling the Democratic participation rate. In the governor’s race, 785,969 Republicans voted as compared to 369,775 Democrats. Lee now becomes the heavy favorite to succeed term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam (R) in the fall general election.
There was no suspense in the open US Senate race because Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) easily won their respective party nominations against only minor opposition, thus officially beginning a general election campaign that has already been proceeding for many weeks.
In the House races, incumbents Phil Roe (R-Johnson City), Chuck Fleischmann (R-Chattanooga), Scott DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg), and Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) all were easily re-nominated in percentages ranging from 70 (DesJarlais) to 91 (Cohen). Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) was the only incumbent House member in either party unopposed for re-nomination.