Down the Stretch in the Two TN Gubernatorial Primaries 

click to enlarge Gunetnatorial candidate Karl Dean works the room at a recent fundraiser. - JB
  • JB
  • Gunetnatorial candidate Karl Dean works the room at a recent fundraiser.
In the immemorial cliché, it really isn't news when dog bites man. In the same way, it's S.O.P. when political opponents snap at each other, a phenomenon that normally signals the beginning of the stretch drive in an election contest.

By that standard, the candidates for governor in Tennessee clearly have the finish line in sight as they jockey for position with less than a month to go in their primary contests. There are two basic narratives — one for each party primary.

The Republican race is essentially a two-candidate affair — with 6th District U.S. Representative Diane Black and former state Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd running neck-and-neck, and having increasingly bitter battles via campaign rhetoric and attack ads.

Williamson County businessman Bill Lee is running third, as a long-shot newcomer, looking for one or both of the frontrunners to stumble. State House Speaker Beth Harwell, the only non-millionaire in the GOP pack, is polling a surprisingly distant fourth.

The issue in the Republican race is, increasingly, about who can profess most fealty to President Trump and to rightward-tending Republican talking points. Last week, both Boyd, in actuality something of a moderate, and Black, who is anything but moderate, issued ads that made the most of ultra-minor past apostasies by their opponents, with Boyd using an old video clip wherein Black doubted the efficacy of a border wall and Black citing Boyd's initial reluctance, in 2016, to fall in line behind presidential candidate Trump.

For good measure, Black's ad noted that upstart candidate Lee had contributed money in the past to Democrats like former Nashville mayors Phil Bredesen and Megan Barry while stiffing Trump's 2016 campaign, financially. Meanwhile, Lee's underdog hopes got a lift at this week's Fayette County Republican Party "Deplorables Dinner" in Moscow, where he led a party straw poll with 72 votes to 20 for Black, 11 for Boyd, and 2 for Harwell.  

The Democratic race is between former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, whose financial resources and support in the party's Middle Tennessee establishment make him the favorite in the primary, and state House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, an endearingly folksy sort who hopes to catch up with a little whip-hand action, stinging Dean for his support of charter schools and challenging his bona fides in the use of federal flood-disaster funds.

Dean does his best to ignore Fitzhugh's attacks and meanwhile is honing his own performances, becoming ever smoother on the stump and looking calm and reasonable in ads that mimic the centrist bipartisan mode of Democratic Senate candidate Bredesen. In appearances last week in both Nashville and Memphis, Fitzhugh, understandably a favorite of party legislators, made a point of lamenting what he suggested was Dean's tendency to echo his own language on issues like the state's need to accept federal funds for Medicaid expansion. (See "Political Beat Blog" at memphisflyer.com for more on the gubernatorial races.) • The focus of local election concerns this week was unmistakably on a brouhaha over the Shelby County Election Commission's abrupt alterations in the sites and scheduling of early-voting locations for the August 2nd county general election and state and federal primaries. At the center of the controversy was the fact that four of five new "satellite" sites (upping the total number from an original 21 to 26) were in easterly portions of the the county and thus, as local Democrats saw it, shifted the epicenter of voting accessibility to the suburban Republican electorate. Even more galling to Democrats was the choice of the Agricenter, in Shelby Farms, as a central polling site, operating by itself for four extra days.

After heated exchanges at a special called meeting of the SCEC on Friday, three sites were named to replace the Agricenter in that role: the Election Commission's Nixon Drive office in Shelby Farms, and two others, one each in areas dominated by voters of the two major parties. Yet as Steve Ross makes clear in "The Last Word," p. 31, the argument lingers on.

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