Democrats exiting the sinking ship? Part 13: Tennessee 

It appears that Tennessee Democrats are having a hard time finding a serious candidate to run in the 6th congressional district from which Bart Gordon, first elected in 1984 and Chairman of the Hous Science Committee, is retiring. Two local state representatives, Henry Fincher and Mike McDonald, have announced they are not retiring. In contrast, two Republican state senators, Diane Black and Jim Tracy, and former Rutherford County party chairman Lou Ann Zelinik, are running. Tennessee’s Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen, who won reelection by a 69%-30% margin in 2006 and is ineligible to run again in 2010, is quoted as saying: “Look, the state is becoming more conservative, you’ve seen that in the last few elections. And Democrats in Tennessee are certainly not getting any help from where national Democrats are going. It’s going to be tough.”


Let’s put this in historic and demographic context. The 6th district of Tennessee is the lineal descendant of the House districts that elected Al Gore, Jr., from 1976 to 1982 and Albert Gore, Sr., from 1938 to 1950. It’s the lineal descendant, for that matter, of the at-large district that elected Tennessee’s first House member, Andrew Jackson, founder of the Democratic party, in 1796. Jackson’s political base was Nashville, in Davidson County, which is just next door to the current 6th district.


Demographically, the 6th district has changed greatly not only from the time it elected Jackson but from the times when it elected the Gores. Nashville has been a fast-growing metro area, and the counties just beyond Davidson County—including Wilson, Sumner, Robertson and Rutherford Counties in the 6th district—have been growing vigorously (by 24%, 19%, 19% and 37% between 2000 and 2008 according to Census Bureau estimates). This has been market-based economic growth, and these counties have become heavily Republican: they voted 68%, 67%, 65% and 59% for John McCain in 2008. All of which helps to tell you why Bart Gordon decided to retire and why Tennessee Democrats are having a hard time recruiting a well-known candidate in a district that has been electing Democrats for more than 200 years.

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Michael Barone

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