As in other places, the Volunteer State’s open primary can be a blessing or a curse---which one it will be for the 2014 mid-terms depends upon the ability of Tennessee’s progressive voters to resist the urge to hedge their bets and stack the Republican ballot.
My beloved Tennessee Dems and left-leaning Independents, let’s have a word. Reports are coming in from all parts of the state about the high turnout for the start of early voting----thus far, a 15% increase over 2010 with many cities and counties reporting record numbers. I have full faith that this is due, in part, to excitement over some of the awesome Democratic candidates who have risen to the challenge of trying to replace certain wretched GOP incumbents. There are some excellent folks who have stepped forward to genuinely serve the people of Tennessee and take on the arduous task of repairing the damage done by self-serving elected officials like Bill Haslam, Lamar Alexander, Stacey Campfield, Scott DesJarlais, Marsha Blackburn, and Diane Black. However, let’s talk strategy for a moment. You see, there’s an awful lot of chatter in comment threads and on message boards about attempting ballot-hopping coups similar to the one that knocked Eric Cantor out in Virginia’s primary. While the success of that play makes it tempting to try and emulate it---especially in local races like State Senate District 7---it’s simply not the best strategy in the bigger picture. Before we get into that, though, let’s take a moment to reassess what you think you know right now about the political power of Tennessee’s Democrats.
First, stop getting suckered in by this current misconception that Tennessee is a solid red state. Take a few moments to read Jack Neely’s 2012 piece for Metro Pulse, "Tennessee's Red State Blues". I, myself, came across it somewhere between hearing environmental activist and former U.S. Senatorial candidate Park Overall's heartfelt query in her 2012 Jackson Day keynote: "Where is the Democratic Party of my parents?!" and fleeing for the liberal refuge of the Left Coast following a difficult year spent mired in election year politics of the Tea Party-strangled remnants of my beautiful home state. Neely's in-depth analysis of the swing-state history of Tennessee's electoral leanings coupled with Overall’s passionate call to action may just remind you that all is not lost and that the current flush of red is bound to give way sooner or later. The pendulum always swings back.
Next, take a look at another Metro Pulse piece that recently asked: "Who Votes? Siler Versus Campfield Could be a Race, if Democrats Voted", wherein Frank Cagle examines the numbers and determines that:
"...if all the Democrats in Knox County who came out to vote in the presidential primary came to the polls in local elections, the Democrats could take over Knox County."However, we need take that a step further. It's not simply a matter of getting Democrats to the polls but of getting Dems to vote on their side of the ballot. Crossover voting has a tendency to skew the numbers and makes Tennessee's Democratic electorate appear much weaker than it actually is. This only furthers the mistaken assumption that Dems can't win which results in left-leaning voters trying to influence the presumed outcome in any way that they can, even if it means abandoning Democratic candidates to vote Republican. Having worked as a strategist and organizer on campaigns from Florida to California, I can tell you from experience one thing that I've learned about voter perception which is this: If Tennessee Democrats continue to feel that they are swimming alone in a sea of red, they will continue to either stay home or ballot-hop---either is disastrous for the Party and the candidates. A strong showing of support for Democratic candidates in the primaries can and does motivate more voters to the polls in the general election. The GOP feels pretty confident in their grasp on Tennessee which inevitably leads to a degree of laziness on behalf of their party’s voters---especially in a mid-term. This can be the crucial advantage that Tennessee Dems need to pull off an upset---just as Cagle describes in his piece.
Expanding this potential to statewide races, keep in mind that The Economist crunched the numbers and discovered that voters---specifically, African-American voters---from just Davidson and Shelby counties alone have sufficient political force to write a better history for us all:
“If Mr. Gore had turned out the same share of voting-age citizens as Mr. Obama in just those two counties round Memphis and Nashville, he would have won Tennessee—and with it the White House.”As a Volunteer State native forced to swallow the bitter pill of voting for Gore in Florida in 2000, I will simply say that, as a National Party, we can only learn from our mistakes and commit to do better. Tennessee Dems, you have so much more political power than you know and we progressives around the country desperately need you to see that.
Because it matters.
On a global scale.