A Big-Time Tennessee U.S. Senate Race is Looming … in 2020!

United States Capitol

As voters in Tennessee turn their attention from the just ended primary campaigns, complete with brutal attack ads, negative mailers, hateful radio spots and dinner-interrupting robocalls, get ready for a lot more of the same in the not-so-distant future. No, that doesn’t refer to the November 6, 2018 general election, though it will be a slugfest. I’m  talking 2020! And that election battle started TONIGHT!

Tennessee’s Republican Senator Lamar Alexander is up for re-election in 2020, the same year President Donald Trump is almost certainly going to be on the ballot seeking reelection in the March SuperTuesday Primary and the November general election. A recent Tennessee Star statewide poll (June, 2018) of likely GOP primary voters showed Alexander with a dangerously low mix of approval and disapproval numbers. Only 37.3 percent had a favorable view towards Alexander, while 38.1 percent viewed him unfavorably.

Alexander was reelected in 2014, receiving less than 50% of the vote in the Republican primary. Alexander lost a dozen counties to Joe Carr in that primary contest, including most of the suburban counties around Nashville, plus Sevier and Blount County in East Tennessee.

At this point, Alexander (who will be 80 years old in 2020) is telling supporters he has every intention of running again. But a 2020 campaign, while Trump is also running for reelection, could easily become a referendum on Alexander’s support for the President. If he indeed plans to run for reelection, Alexander needs to be very vocal and  forceful in his support for the Trump agenda and go all in to insure that Marsha Blackburn wins this November.

Working visibly and energetically to insure a Blackburn victory is critical to his prospects for re-election and improving his standing among Tennessee Republicans, particularly since Corker continues to work behind the scenes against her. Lamar is a lot more personally popular than Corker and still enjoys a lot of good will among Tennessee GOP voters, but the vocal anti-Trump criticism that Corker spews regularly is tainting Alexander’s reputation.

Alexander’s perceived vulnerabilities will generate a primary challenge, just as significant Republican candidates were lining up to challenge Corker this cycle. If Alexander ultimately opts not to seek reelection, Governor Bill Haslam (who passed on seeking the open Senate seat after Corker announced his retirement) would be a strong possibility to reenter the political arena…though his announcement that he wouldn’t vote for Trump just three weeks before he trounced Hillary in Tennessee would make appearing on the ballot WITH Trump an issue that would haunt the then ex-Governor in a GOP Primary fight.  If Alexander does run again it is hard to imagine Haslam challenging him.

There are plenty of other potential candidates waiting in the wings whether Alexander seeks reelection or not. And their efforts, even if in the shadows at this point, intensified at about 7:01 Central Time on August 2 as the GOP 2018 Primary ended. Randy Boyd and Diane Black, who finished second and third in the GOP primary for Governor have resources and organization to simply keep running, and they are clearly infected with the “political bug” that may make it hard for either or both to NOT make another immediate try for statewide office.

Watch what they do after a few days of licking their wounds. If they do what they should do, whether they are running in 2020 or just keeping the option open, then they will work visibly and aggressively to elect Bill Lee as Governor and Blackburn to the Senate. That can include forming an independent expenditure committee to put their money where their mouth is, while having complete control over what they do and how they do it rather than being directed by the campaigns. It also lets them keep their base of supporters involved, energized and in contact. After all, the 2020 primary is only 18 months away.

Besides those two, there are others who will be thinking about a race — even if not speaking it out loud. Mark Green will be fresh off of a presumably successful race for Congress in GOP-voter rich Middle Tennessee and clearly has the interest and ambition to look statewide. He may opt to secure a strong leadership role in Congress and consider that he’s young enough to wait 8 years to take another shot at Governor instead of a quick and immediate race for Senate.

And there are certainly other wealthy businessmen (and businesswomen) who may look to what the “outsider” campaigns spent and did this cycle and decide they can do it better. Current U.S. Ambassador to Japan and former Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty may be in a different time zone, for now, but shouldn’t be forgotten either. Somewhere in Tennessee tonight somebody with a lot of money is looking in the mirror thinking that they can run a better campaign than what they just saw play out — even if most voters have never heard of them at this point.

The bottom line? Just because the 2020 race hasn’t begun in any visible way, quiet is not the same thing as silent. And that quiet will become deafening sooner than we think.

– – –

Steve Gill is the Political Editor of The Tennessee Star.











Related posts

2 Thoughts to “A Big-Time Tennessee U.S. Senate Race is Looming … in 2020!”

  1. Sim

    I voted against Lamar in 2014, and will again in 2020.

    “Election Redemption” doesn’t work for me.

    I’m Conservative to the bone and any candidate who expect my vote will be too.

  2. lb

    I think Diane should be very outfront in her support for Lee at this point. Then she can take on this super rino lamar and finally get him out of office. He is well past his due date and frequently out of touch. He only rises up to rebuke something the President does or if its close to election-other than that he is ineffective and vapid