Candidates have spent over $50 million – a state record so far – in the Tennessee gubernatorial primary to replace term-limited Governor Bill Haslam (R). While the Democrats had a clear front-runner throughout primary season, it turned into a tighter and testier race for the Republicans. With all four leading Republican candidates in agreement on most of the issues, it came down to campaign messaging and execution.
Businessman Bill Lee (R) ran with an outsider message. He has a policy agenda for rural Tennessee that includes work requirements for social programs, expanding technical career courses, lowering taxes for small business, and investing in telehealth. Lee (R) defeated his challengers with 36.76% of the vote yesterday.
Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean (D) won the Democratic primary with 75.12% of the vote. If elected, Dean has stated he will make education his number one priority. He supports raising teacher salaries, bringing programs like Teach for America to rural districts, and incentives to bring teachers into the state such as loan forgiveness. His campaign has touted pragmatism and has clearly been positioning Dean for the general election hoping to bring in independent voters.
At present, Republicans are expected to maintain control of the Governors Mansion. However, if popular former Governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen (D) can be competitive at the top of ticket, things could get a bit more interesting in the Volunteer State.