Republicans running for the state legislature in Tennessee have had it pretty easy in recent years. In the last legislative election in 2016, rival Democrats didn’t even bother mounting a challenge to nearly half of the races for open seats, leaving Republicans with a super-majority in the state legislature that allowed them to pass any bill they wanted with impunity.
This year, however, things will be radically different. The GOP is getting ready to be swamped by a “blue wave” of candidates who will be contesting 112 out of the 117 state House and Senate seats, according to a press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party.
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“We’re proud, motivated, and excited to have the largest class of Tennessee Democrats stepping up to run for office in recent memory,” Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said in the release.
“Tennesseans want a government that works for them, and with current leadership, that’s just not happening. These Democratic candidates are running to put our values into action. They want to stop more rural hospitals from closing, so parents are able to take their child to the hospital if they break an arm. They want everyone to be able to receive an education that fits their vision for the future; they want everyone to be able to find a good-paying job and retire in dignity and security.”
“Now more than ever, we look forward to electing more Democrats who will work to make our state a place where all Tennesseans have the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families.”
With an unprecedented number of candidates on the ballot, the Democrats will use the vast policy differences they have with the Republicans on issues such as health care, jobs, and wages to set their members apart from their rivals who have failed to deliver the policies that most Tennesseans want to see realized.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Mike Stewart told The Tennessean that his party will be fielding the strongest group of candidates in its modern history.
“These are highly successful lawyers, doctors, a sergeant major, business people,” Stewart said. “These are people who are prominent people in their communities already, and they have chosen to step up across the state.”
Stewart’s counterpart in the Tennessee Senate, Democratic Caucus Chair Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville), pointed out the days of Republicans coasting unopposed to victory are over.
“For too long, too many of the legislators who work in this building have gotten a free pass” he said. “They have not been held accountable. For too long, too many of the districts across the state have not had a meaningful choice on Election Day. But in 112 of 117 legislative districts, they going to have a choice this November.”
To at least be fielding candidates in districts that they haven’t bothered contesting recently may be a great first step for Democrats in the state, but to truly seize control from the GOP, they first have to convince Democratic-leaning voters to turn out in November and clean house (and Senate) in the legislature.
With a trail of broken promises from the Trump administration beginning to alienate the president’s supporters and a strong resistance movement in the state’s urban centers, chances are good that the Dems will have the kind of turnout that they’re hoping for in November, and, finally, enough candidates running for them to have a chance to at least keep the Republicans from achieving another super-majority.