More dreadful 2010 turnout news for Democrats in Tenn. 

Earlier this week I wrote a blogpost about the nearly 2-1 Republican turnout advantage in Tuesday’s primaries in Michigan and Missouri. Neither state has party registration so turnout in primaries is a reasonably good proxy for relative enthusiasm. Now there is similar news from Tennessee, another state without party registration, which held its primary on Thursday. The figures are from the Nashville Tennesseean website; the Tennessee secretary of state’s website seems to have conked out.

In the race for governor 786,822 votes were cast for Republicans; the Tennesseean doesn’t print a total for the the unopposed Democratic candidate. Incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen—one of the nation’s best governors of the last decade, in my opinion—was ineligible for a third term.  The last time the governorship was open was in 2002, when 534,213 votes were cast for Republican candidates and 539,438 for Democrats.

This year there were contested primaries in both parties in five congressional districts. Here are the numbers, with the 2008 percentages for John McCain and Barack Obama.

District                   Republican         Democratic      2008 McCain-Obama%

TN 3                        90,528                   17,991             62%-37%

TN 5                        43,293                   31,996            43%-56%

TN 6                        80,638                   31,525             62%-37%

TN 8                        72,238                   40,097             56%-43%

TN 9                        21,647                   80,471             23%-77%

TN 3 has been represented by Republican Zach Wamp since he won an open seat contest in 1994; he had nearly beaten incumbent Marilyn Lloyd two years before and she retired. This year he ran for governor and finished second in the Republican primary. Turnout in the 1994 primaries was 58,181 Republican, 49,558 Democratic. Total turnout was almost identical in the two years, but in 1994 54% of primary voters cast Republican ballots and this year 83% did.

TN 5 is a Nashville-centered district that is considered safe Democratic. It has been represented since 2002 by Democrat Jim Cooper, who also represented the rural 4th district from 1982 to 1994, when he picked the wrong year to run for senator and lost to Fred Thompson. Cooper had weak primary opposition, so perhaps the low Democratic turnout is probably not a sign that he is in trouble this year.

TN 6 is a once-rural district that includes much of metro Nashville. It has been represented since 1984 by Democrat Bart Gordon, whose December 2009 decision to retire was an early sign that the Democrats were in trouble. This was once prime Democratic territory, represented in the House by Democratic luminaries like Andrew Jackson, Cordell Hull, Albert Gore Sr. and Al Gore Jr. Now it’s widely assumed to be a safe Republican seat, as the huge advantage in Republican turnout suggests. In 1984, the last time the seat was open, 81,962 votes were cast in the Democratic primary and 13,766 in the Republican primary.

TN 8 is a mostly rural west Tennessee district which is historically Democratic but also conservative; it cast almost half its votes for George Wallace in the three-way presidential race in 1968. Democratic incumbent John Tanner, first elected in 1988, made news when he announced his retirement in early 2009, shortly before Gordon’s announcement. This district has a higher black percentage than TN 6 and has been more Democratic in presidential elections. Nonetheless Republican turnout was nearly twice Democratic turnout this year. In 1988, the last time the seat was open, 68,252 votes were cast in the Democratic primary and 12,498 in the Republican primary.

TN 9 consists of most of the city of Memphis; it has a black majority and is heavily Democratic. The big race here was between incumbent Steve Cohen, first elected in 2006, and former Memphis Mayor Willie Henreton, who argued that the district should have a black congressman. Cohen, who boasts a liberal voting record and support from Congressional Black Caucus members, won in a 4-to-1 rout.

Bottom line: in the five Tennessee congressional districts in which both parties had primary contests, four of them currently represented by Democrats and two of which voted for Barack Obama, 308,344 votes were cast for Republicans and 202,080 votes were cast for Democrats.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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