Previewing Tennessee’s Primaries

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 11: U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) speaks to members of the media at the Capitol October 11, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. On the 11th day of a U.S. Government shutdown, President Barack Obama spoke with Speaker Boehner on the phone and they agreed that they should keep talking.
National Journal
Scott Bland
Aug. 6, 2014, 7:45 a.m.

In many ways, Kan­sas’s primary was a good ex­ample of the cycle as a whole. In­cum­bents like Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) struggled badly but still man­aged to win. Don’t be too sur­prised to see the same phe­nomen­on up and down Ten­ness­ee‘s bal­lot on Thursday — but we could see an­oth­er in­cum­bent (or even two) bite the dust.

— Rep. Scott Des­Jar­lais (R) in TN-04 is the Vo­lun­teer State’s most en­dangered in­cum­bent, but there’s still a chance he finds his way to re­nom­in­a­tion this week, based on three factors. Des­Jar­lais’s scan­dal broke at ex­actly the right time (nearly two years ago, between the 2012 primary and gen­er­al) to give it time to fade in people’s minds; he’s been ag­gress­ive about mak­ing amends; and out­side anti-abor­tion and oth­er con­ser­vat­ive groups haven’t got­ten in­volved. That said, much of the Ten­ness­ee GOP es­tab­lish­ment lined up be­hind state Sen. Jim Tracy (R), a big help to him des­pite Des­Jar­lais’s “ca­reer politi­cian” at­tacks.

— As TN-04 has got­ten late at­ten­tion, TN-03 has gone un­der the radar a bit. But as we’ve writ­ten be­fore, second-term Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R) has nev­er con­sol­id­ated the GOP base, win­ning just 39% in the 2012 GOP primary. We­st­on Wamp (R) has real flaws, but he’s been reas­on­ably well-fun­ded and sol­id on the trail, and Fleischmann’s neg­at­ive clos­ing cam­paign hit­ting Wamp on health care and im­mig­ra­tion (in­clud­ing a pho­toshopped mail­er show­ing Wamp burn­ing a pass­port) speaks for it­self.

— Then there’s the big fish: Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der (R), who has nev­er trailed in polls or faced well-fun­ded at­tacks this year and, like Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham (R) and oth­ers be­fore him, suc­cess­fully dis­suaded any tier-one chal­lengers from test­ing him. Still, Gra­ham, Roberts, and oth­ers have got­ten dragged un­der 60% (or in Roberts’s case, 50%) by flawed chal­lengers this year — though Al­ex­an­der’s in-state fa­vor­ab­il­ity has been bet­ter than most, too.

Thursday will be the second of three primary days this week, and in­cum­bents have tough battles in all of them.— Scott Bland

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