A subject line at the top of local media inboxes told the story in Tennessee on election night: "Memo on Supermajorities." While President Barack Obama's broad re-election victory set off Republican meltdowns on Twitter, Facebook and indeed live television — Karl Rove's now-legendary hissy fit on Fox News suggests he has a bright future on RuPaul's Drag Race — the results within Tennessee's borders were much more to their liking.
The state that last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 1996 continued its red streak by granting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney nearly 60 percent of the vote. While the former Massachusetts governor's victory in Tennessee was by no means a bellwether, he did expand slightly on the breadth of Sen. John McCain's 2008 victory, if not on the size of it. Although it has long been a Democratic stronghold, Houston County, which went blue for Obama in 2008, turned red Tuesday night, meaning Romney carried all but four of Tennessee's 95 counties. Obama still prevailed in the state's two largest counties — Shelby and Davidson — but he did so with smaller margins of victory than in 2008.
Down ballot, things were similarly rosy for Republicans, without the thud of the other shoe that came with the presidential returns. In the 4th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais — the only Congress critter whose re-election had been in doubt, thanks to revelations about his past dalliances with former patients — survived a meager challenge from state Sen. Eric Stewart. The rest of Tennessee's current congressional delegation remained intact.
One bright spot for Democrats may actually be found in the rubble left by the rock-bottom Democratic candidacy of Mark Clayton. Facing U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Clayton — who was disavowed by the Tennessee Democratic Party — still received 30 percent of the vote statewide. That's 702,298 votes in all, just shy of the 767,236 votes Bob Tuke received when he challenged Lamar Alexander for his seat in 2008. In Davidson County, Clayton lost to Corker by just two points (about 6,000 votes). In Shelby County, he actually bested the incumbent Republican by nearly 30,000 votes.
To be sure, Clayton's candidacy has been a source of national embarrassment for the TNDP. But whatever Clayton's vote totals say about Democratic voters in Davidson and Shelby counties particularly, it could also be cause for some optimism among Tennessee Democrats.
Unless Clayton has roused a heretofore unknown voting bloc with his curious platform — including tinfoil-hat alarms about a NAFTA superhighway and airports employing homosexuals to touch children in their stranger-danger zones — then this is their baseline. These are the voters who will apparently vote for anyone labeled "Democrat" — or at the very least, not named Bob Corker. Should the state party be pleased, or frightened?
In light of the Clayton debacle, and the impending inner-party campaign to see who will succeed Chip Forrester as state party chair, party insiders had already begun saying that identifying Senate candidates the party could actually support should be among the new chairman's top priorities. Given the news that even a disavowed conspiracy theorist can get 30 percent of the state's vote — with the Tennessee Dems waving voters away from his campaign with caution flags — one would hope.
Further down the ballot, at the state level, Republican dominance was even more solid. As expected, the party obtained two-thirds supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature, the historic occasion that triggered the memo. By gaining six seats in the Senate (bringing the count there to 27 Republicans and 6 Democrats) and six in the House (making the count there 70 to 28), Republicans achieved their first supermajority since Reconstruction. They also became the first party to do so in both chambers since 1977.
In the Senate, Steve Dickerson's victory over Phillip North dealt a symbolic blow to Democrats, as the Senate District 20 seat had been held by Democratic Sen. Joe Haynes for nearly three decades. Beyond that, a win for Dickerson was illustrative of two things Republicans have going for them in the state. One is a deep bench of candidates who are willing to run for office, lose, and then run again. Dickerson previously ran in 2010 against longtime Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry, but his loss there paved the way for his victory Tuesday. The other is redistricting, which meat-carved a traditionally Democratic district and made it lean Republican.
In all, Republicans won all but one of 16 state Senate races, sparing only Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, who cut a deal during the redistricting process and opted to face fellow Democrat Sen. Beverly Marrero in a primary over a potentially difficult Republican challenge in the general.
In the House, however, while Republicans were ultimately successful in neutering Democrats, there were some bright spots for the shrinking minority. Democrats in the lower chamber held onto their Davidson County seats, even knocking off an incumbent Republican.
The latter occurred in House District 60, where Metro Councilman Darren Jernigan defeated former Metro Councilman and incumbent GOP Rep. Jim Gotto by a mere 91 votes. Defending Democratic seats abandoned by retiring incumbents, Bo Mitchell won by fewer than 200 votes over Charles Williamson, while Jason Powell won easily over Republican Ben Claybaker.
At the bottom of the ballot, voters approved the five proposed Metro Charter amendments, including one allowing the Metro Council, with agreement from the sheriff and the police chief, to authorize the Davidson County Sheriff's Office to conduct tasks not specifically assigned to it in the charter. Also approved: the amendment removing the requirement that the director of Metro's Public Works department be a licensed engineer.
For the record, neither of the past two Public Works directors has had that qualification anyway. But in a county where Mark Clayton received 45 percent of the vote, you wonder how many people knew that.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article gave the wrong result on the Public Works amendment. The article as it appears is now correct. The Scene apologizes for the error.
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