NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Key nominations are at stake in Tennessee for open races for governor and U.S. Senate as voters take part in state primary elections.
The ballot includes contests for the U.S. House and the Republican-led General Assembly.
About 626,900 people have already voted early or absentee, a jump of more than 62,000 from the 2014 midterm election. More than six in every 10 early or absentee ballots cast this primary were Republican.
Here’s a look at the major contests:
Four GOP front-runners and two leading Democrats are vying to succeed popular term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
The top Republicans are former state economic development Commissioner Randy Boyd of Knoxville, U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin, state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and businessman Bill Lee of Franklin.
Boyd, founder of a company that makes invisible fences and other pet products, helped Haslam create a free state community college program. Black is a longtime lawmaker and former House Budget Committee chairwoman who helped with President Donald Trump’s tax law. Harwell, a former college professor, has touted her work on conservative state budgeting since being elected speaker in 2011. Lee is a cattle farmer and chairman of a mechanical contracting, facilities and home services company.
The Republicans’ focus on loyalty to Trump, including tough talk on immigration, has incited infighting about who’s not as conservative as they claim. Each has injected millions of dollars of personal wealth into their campaigns, a record-setting total of some $40 million.
Two main Democrats with backgrounds as attorneys seek their party’s nomination: former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh. Fitzhugh also is CEO of a local bank. Dean outspent Fitzhugh so far, $4.4 million to $984,800. Dean calls himself as a moderate who can work with both parties in the Republican-led General Assembly. Fitzhugh cites a long record of legislative work.
In a key matchup for control of the U.S. Senate, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen have been campaigning like they are running against each other for months already.
But first, they must win their parties’ nominations, which shouldn’t be a tall task against nominal opposition.
In the GOP primary, Blackburn faces Murfreesboro truck driver Aaron L. Pettigrew, who hasn’t raised any money.
Bredesen has two Democratic primary opponents who haven’t reported raising any money: Gary Davis, a perennial candidate from Nashville, and Chattanooga attorney John Wolfe.
Blackburn, from Brentwood, was first elected to the U.S. House in 2002. She calls herself a “card-carrying Tennessee conservative” who will fight for Trump’s agenda.
Bredesen was Tennessee’s governor from 2003 to 2011, and formerly Nashville’s mayor. Running as an independent thinker, he says he will work with Trump when his ideas make sense for Tennessee and oppose the president when they don’t.
Both are looking ahead to a November matchup to replace Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who is retiring.
Three House districts are losing Republican incumbents and the party primaries will decide the top two candidates for the open seats in November.
In District 2, where Knoxville Republican John Duncan Jr. is retiring, Republican front-runners include Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and state Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City. Three Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination in the traditionally GOP district.
Diane Black’s gubernatorial campaign clears District 6 for a new House member. Retired judge Bob Corlew of Mount Juliet and Cookeville farmer John Rose lead fundraising, with state Rep. Judd Matheny also competing. Dr. Dawn Barlow of Rickman and United Methodist minister Merrilee Wineinger of Hendersonville lead in fundraising on the Democrat side.
Marsha Blackburn’s Senate candidacy frees up District 7. State Sen. Mark Green of Ashland City, who withdrew as Trump’s nominee for Army secretary earlier this year amid criticism of his comments about gay and transgender people, is the lone GOP candidate in the solidly Republican district. There are two Democratic hopefuls.
Barring major upsets, Republican incumbents in four other districts appear safe, as do Democratic incumbents in two other districts.
Some new faces have emerged in the primary election for the General Assembly, where Republicans hold supermajorities. All 99 seats in the House and 18 of the 33 Senate seats are being contested.
Eighteen Republican and seven Democratic incumbents in the House won’t be running again. They include Republican Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Democratic Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, both running for governor.
The exodus has been less in the Senate. Democratic Sens. Lee Harris and Thelma Harper, and Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro aren’t seeking re-election.
Voters are choosing mayors in the state’s larges county, which includes Memphis, and in solidly Republican Knox County in East Tennessee.