This is the big one, Tennessee Republicans say: the opportunity in fall elections to win the governorship, capture a majority of congressional seats and solidify GOP control of the General Assembly.
GOP leaders are keeping their fingers crossed that 2010 elections will put the party in its strongest position since post-Civil War Reconstruction, just in time to redraw 132 legislative districts and nine congressional seats for 2012 elections.
“Certainly we’re not taking anything for granted, but I believe it’s going to be a very good year for Republicans across the state,” state party Chairman Chris Devaney said.
State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester says that’s “preposterous.”
“They have just come out of a set of primaries that have been about as bloody as I have seen in 20 years,” said Forrester. He said Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter should win his race, and so should Democrats in two open congressional races. The party is also in excellent position to retake the state House from Republicans, he said.
Outside observers aren’t so sure.
It’s an off-year election, and a struggling economy and other factors have the public looking askance at President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.
Republicans have a majority in the state House and Senate, and popular Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen is term limited and can’t run again. Obama did dismally here in 2008, and 65 percent of state voters in a Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. survey in July ranked his job performance low.
“They (Democrats) face a state which has a Republican lean to it,” said Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer, who estimates the statewide GOP advantage at 10 points. “That means they (Democrats) normally need favorable conditions or favorable candidates … to win races that are statewide.”
Oppenheimer said Democrats, who have strong support in some areas of Tennessee, can be more competitive in local races for the state legislature or Congress.