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Previewing Tennessee's Senate Primary


Thursday, August 6, is primary day for fifteen Republicans and five Democrats that want to carry their party’s nomination to win an open seat in the U.S. Senate. As is the case with so much in the year 2020, the race is not falling along predictable lines.

Maryville College political scientist Mark O’Gorman says there are issues on both sides that make the Senate race hard to forecast.

When the year began, presumed GOP front-runner Bill Hagerty had the tailwind of experience, name recognnition and a prized endorsement from President Trump. But his early has eroded as Nashville physician Mannny Sethi has attacked from the right, painting Hagerty as insufficiently conservative.

"Suddenly, Sethi has...put together a very strong camapign going right at the some of the perceived conservative weaknesses of Hagerty," O'Gorman said. Those attacks are "starting to dimish the impact of Hagerty's endorsement by Trump, and I think has made it a more competitive race."

On the Democratic side, 2018 candidate James Mackler is back for another shot at the nomination. His fundraising has been the most successful of the five Democratic candidates so far, but others have tapped into the progressive politics of the moment, O'Gorman says. Marquita Bradshaw and Robin Kimbrough Hayes, for example, have talked about social justice in their campaign appearances, linking their candidacies to the national conversations that gained traction after the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

As for whether any of the Democratic candidates is likely to "flip" the seat this fall, O'Gorman thinks chances are slim. But how big a margin separates the Democratic and Republican candidates in November is a number worth watching, he says.

"President Trump... has strong support in Tennessee, [but] I do think as we move deeper into the election, you might start to see some shaking of that support, and as a result that might move some votes a little bit to the other side," O'Gorman said.