Midterms 2018: Taylor Swift, high voter turnout and a toss up Senate race - why Tennessee is one to watch

Polls predict Tennessee Senate race to be one of the closest across the midterm elections

Lucy Anna Gray
Thursday 01 November 2018 14:45 GMT
US Midterms 2018: The five big questions

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


The tightrope race for taking the Senate during next week’s midterm elections could go either way, and one of the states that could tip the balance is Tennessee.

There’s no doubt Republicans are in a stronger position across America, and a blue win would require the Democrats to play a perfect hand, but it is possible Donald Trump’s party could lose out.

With 51 red Senate seats to 47 blue, and two independents who caucus with the Democrats, every state counts. But as with any election, some states count more than others, and one of those under the spotlight is Tennessee.

With Republican Senator Bob Corker retiring, his Trump-supporting replacement Marsha Blackburn would normally have a clear run to victory in this red state. But a number of intriguing factors mean former Governor Phil Bredesen is a key Democrat to watch on Tuesday night.

“Given the polarised state of American politics, there aren’t too many instances of viable Democratic Senate candidates in states as ‘red’ as Tennessee,” political professor at the University of Memphis Eric Groendyk tells The Independent. “The Bredesen race is definitely one to watch.”

Even Nashville’s favourite Taylor Swift is excited about this race. The international superstar has been more politically vocal than ever, calling for her army of Swifties to go out and vote.

This week Swift shared a message on Instagram saying she had already voted for Breseden, who she claims is “the candidate who has proven himself to be reasonable and trustworthy”.

And it seems the buzz around votership is having an impact. Communications Director for the Tennessee Democratic Party, Amanda Yanchury, tells The Independent more than one million people had already voted in Tennessee, with three days of early voting and Election Day itself still to go at that point.

“To put that into context,” Ms Yanchury said, “1.4 million people total voted in the 2014 midterm election in Tennessee.”

This high voter turnout is being seen across the country – with a left outraged with Donald Trump and a right fearful of the imminent migrant caravans – but it is in states like Tennessee where these numbers could make the difference.

So does Breseden really stand a chance?

Former Governor Phil Bredesen served two terms, leaving office in 2011, and was Mayor of Nashville before that, giving him strong name recognition among voters. A known moderate, Bredesen often plays the middle ground, however his controversial support of Brett Kavanaugh this year may serve to alienate him.

“Bredesen definitely has a chance, but he needs to walk a tightrope to do it,” Eric Groenendyk told us. “He needs to appear moderate enough to win some of the moderate and conservative minded people who voted for him when he was governor, and the state was not so bright red. At the same time, he also needs the Democratic base to be excited enough to turn out to vote for him.”

This graph shows the battle for the Senate at the 2018 US Midterms
This graph shows the battle for the Senate at the 2018 US Midterms (The Independent)

Tennessee is strong Trump territory, as we saw with the Memphis rally earlier this month with the president wholly endorsing one of his biggest fans, Marsha Blackburn.

According to Real Clear Politics Blackburn currently holds a 6.2 per cent lead, but from April to the end of September this year – the same month as the Brett Kavanaugh hearing – it was in fact Mr Bredesen that was the favourite to win.

But many polls, including Cook, say this race is a toss up.

“He has some support here and I think it may be a close race. I do think that Blackburn is more likely to win, however. I also think that this year’s midterm elections may be ‘poll-defying’ like the Brexit vote and Trump’s election,” senior lecturer in political science at the University of Memphis, Paul A Mego, said.

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But Blackburn is not without her own controversies. She has been plagued with expense scandals over recent years, including allegedly not disclosing a $100,000 line of a credit from a bank to cover the costs of repairs for a house she co-owns in South Carolina.

She is also a staunch pro-lifer, to the extent that one of her campaign adverts from 2017 got blocked from Twitter because she claimed she had “stopped the sale of baby body parts”.

“I think that both sides (and there really are only two sides) are feeling desperate and a little scared,” Dr Mego said.

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