by Steven Hale
Tennessee Democrats are doing their best to spin Tuesday night's election results into some workable thread, and to the extent that it keeps the 35 of them remaining in the state legislature in a better mood, it's probably worth the effort.
It is true that, despite ultimately descending to the status of a super-minority in both chambers, they were able to pick off incumbent Republican Jim Gotto, replacing him with Metro Councilman Darren Jernigan, an upset victory for sure. They also managed to protect the incumbents they had left in the House, after redistricting and retirement claimed 10 before the general election even began.
But there is one bit of optimism which they'd be widely mocked for pointing out with too much enthusiasm, but is nevertheless true. It's one of the few silver bits of lining Democrats can find in my election wrap-up in this week's dead-tree issue of the Scene:
One bright spot for Democrats may actually be found in the rubble left by the rock-bottom Democratic candidacy of Mark Clayton. Facing U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Clayton — who was disavowed by the Tennessee Democratic Party — still received 30 percent of the vote statewide. That's 702,298 votes in all, just shy of the 767,236 votes Bob Tuke received when he challenged Lamar Alexander for his seat in 2008. In Davidson County, Clayton lost to Corker by just two points (about 6,000 votes). In Shelby County, he actually bested the incumbent Republican by nearly 30,000 votes.
To be sure, Clayton's candidacy has been a source of national embarrassment for the TNDP. But whatever Clayton's vote totals say about Democratic voters in Davidson and Shelby counties particularly, it could also be cause for some optimism among Tennessee Democrats.
Unless Clayton has roused a heretofore unknown voting bloc with his curious platform — including tinfoil-hat alarms about a NAFTA superhighway and airports employing homosexuals to touch children in their stranger-danger zones — then this is their baseline. These are the voters who will apparently vote for anyone labeled "Democrat" — or at the very least, not named Bob Corker. Should the state party be pleased, or frightened?
In light of the Clayton debacle, and the impending inner-party campaign to see who will succeed Chip Forrester as state party chair, party insiders had already begun saying that identifying Senate candidates the party could actually support should be among the new chairman's top priorities. Given the news that even a disavowed conspiracy theorist can get 30 percent of the state's vote — with the Tennessee Dems waving voters away from his campaign with caution flags — one would hope.
To be sure, blindly partisan voting habits are nothing new. But in private anyway, Democrats must be happy to find that they need only field a candidate in order to get more than half of the way to a Senate seat. Moreover, Clayton received more than 200,000 less votes than President Barack Obama, which means more than 200,000 people who, one assumes, would be likely to vote for a more palatable Democratic Senate candidate, to say nothing of a candidate they could actually be excited about.
As a completely unrelated side note, former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen is not ruling out getting back into politics in 2014.