Moderate Wins Tenn. GOP Primary
Former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker won Thursday’s Republican primary for the Senate seat being vacated by Bill Frist, handily defeating former representatives Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary; Corker will face Memphis’ Harold Ford, Jr. in the November general election.
What does this matchup portend? On the one hand, Mike Hollihan thinks Bryant or Hilleary would have trounced Ford, while Corker will face a tougher road:
As for the Corker v. Ford race, well … it’s a race now and not just a Republican walk-away. It’s not gonna be pretty.
On the other hand, KC Johnson thinks Corker increases the chances of a GOP hold in Tennessee; he also notes a string of Democratic futility in recent Senate contests:
Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Tennessee since 1990–in fact, they haven’t even come close to winning a Senate race in Tennessee since that time. (Twenty years ago, Tennessee had the most liberal Senate delegation in the South, Albert Gore and Jim Sasser.) Ford is far and way the strongest candidate the Dems could offer in the state–telegenic, very bright, smart politically. But in a state where the Republicans have a built-in advantage, it’s hard to see an African-American winning.
Although Democrats have been successful in statewide races–notably, former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen looks like a shoe-in for a second term as governor, and Democrats retain tenuous control over the state legislature–federal races have not gone well for the party, most notably in 2000 when “native son” Al Gore failed to win his home state.
I tend to agree with Johnson’s assessment; while Tennessee certainly is a relatively conservative state, it has a strong pragmatic streak in statewide races, and the appeals to the GOP base on social issues that work in gerrymandered House districts tend not to be as effective in statewide contests–consider that Hilleary lost to Bredesen in the 2002 gubernatorial race, and Frist, Lamar Alexander, and Fred Thompson have hardly been favorites of the right wing of the party. Corker would seem to fit in that mold and will probably be seen by swing voters as the best choice, especially given the baggage Ford brings to the race in a state where the popularity of the Ford family ends around Memphis’ I-240 loop.