A moderate Democrat with a record of winning in Tennessee will face off against a firebrand conservative in November, in a contest for US Senate that is remarkably competitive for the Republican-leaning state.
Democratic former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn won their respective primaries, CNN projects. Their victories were widely expected.
The race to be the Volunteer State’s next governor also came into focus on Thursday, where attention in recent weeks has been on the competitive and nasty fight for the Republican nomination among Rep. Diane Black and businessmen Bill Lee and Randy Boyd.
Lee will win the GOP nomination, CNN projects, defeating Black, who was backed by Vice President Mike Pence.
The Senate race is slated to be one of the most hotly contested of the 2018 midterms. Republicans had never expected to be competing for a Senate seat in ruby-red Tennessee, but Bredesen’s cross-party appeal and Trump’s sagging popularity have made the race competitive. CNN currently rates the race as Lean Republican.
If Blackburn wins in the fall, she would be the first woman from Tennessee to serve in the US Senate.
In the governor’s race, Black was widely seen as the front-runner for months, buoyed by her vast personal wealth and ability to self-fund much of her campaign. But then she ran into Lee and Boyd, equally well-financed businessmen.
Trump, despite his eagerness to jump into Republican primaries across the country, had stayed out of the Tennessee gubernatorial race.
While Pence threw his support behind the Republican lawmaker, Trump’s lack of an endorsement had been seen in the state as a death knell for Black, who – like the other candidates – has tried to run toward the President.
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Trump did visit the state in May to stump for Blackburn – who spoke at his rally – but barely mentioned the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
“She’s in a big race,” Trump said. “Good luck, Diane.”
With the race wide open, the spending on the Republican side was astronomical.
According to a count from The Tennessean, $46 million has been spent in the Republican gubernatorial primary, with Boyd spending a whopping $19 million of his own money and Black pouring in $12 million of her own fortune.
Despite that spending, political watchers in the state believed Lee had the momentum headed into Thursday’s primary, even though he pumped only $5 million in personal contributions into his campaign.
The race on the Democratic side, like the Senate contest, was more of a forgone conclusion. Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who significantly outspent House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, will win the Democratic nomination, CNN projects.
While there was little intrigue in primary contests for Tennessee’s seats in the House, Rep. David Kustoff did find himself in a fight against George Flinn, a radiologist and perennial self-funding candidate who is outspending the sitting member 2-to-1 ahead of Thursday’s Republican primary.
Kustoff will win his primary, CNN projects.
Republicans had grown mildly worried that, in an unpredictable 2018 campaign season, Flinn could upset Kustoff, who earned a Trump endorsement last week.
“Congressman David Kustoff has been a champion for the Trump Agenda — I greatly appreciate his support,” the President tweeted. “David is strong on crime and borders, loves our Military, Vets and Second Amendment.”