Tennessee’s primary elections were held Thursday to determine the party’s candidates for governor, congressional and state assembly seats.
A handful of ballot initiatives and district attorney races were also on the ballot in some counties, along with the retention of all Supreme Court justices.
Through 14 days of early voting, turnout was down 23.8% from the August 2018 election, when there was an open governor’s race with Republican and Democratic primaries. Compared to the same point in 2014, turnout was down 15.4%.
Here’s a look at some of the top contests:
Democrat Jason Martin, a Nashville physician who criticized Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, won the primary race to challenge Lee. Martin defeated Memphis Councilman JB Smiley Jr. by a narrow margin, and Memphis community advocate Carnita Atwater finished third. Lee ran unopposed in the GOP primary as he sought a second term, marking the first time in nearly three decades that an incumbent governor had no primary opponent.
Tennessee has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2006.
Earlier this year, Tennessee’s GOP-dominated General Assembly split left-leaning Nashville into three congressional districts with the goal of flipping one seat from a Democrat to a Republican. Longtime incumbent Democratic US House Representative Jim Cooper announced that he would not seek re-election because he felt there was no way he could win.
On Thursday, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles of Columbia emerged as the GOP nominee among nine candidates in the 5th District. Among those he defeated were former State House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and retired Tennessee National Guard Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead, of Franklin.
State Sen. Heidi Campbell of Nashville was the only candidate in the Democratic primary.
Meanwhile, five of Tennessee’s nine congressmen went unopposed in the primary: U.S. House Rep. Diana Harshberger, Tim Burchett, Scott Desjarlais, John Rose and Mark Green.
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Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, and Republicans David Kustoff and Chuck Fleishman, both Republicans, faced underfunded challenges in their primaries. In the 9th District, Cohen m. Defeated Latroy Alexandria-Williams, Charlotte Bergman won the Republican nod against Leo Evgovot and Brown Dudley. Kustoff defeated three primary challengers in the 8th District, Danny Ray Bridger Jr., Gary Dean Claus, and Bob Hendry, while Democrat Lynette Williams defeated Tim McDonald for her party’s nomination. In the 3rd District, Fleischman won his race over Sandy Casey and will face Democrat Meg Gorman in the fall.
In the 6th District Democratic primary, Randall Cooper defeated Clay Faircloth to face Rose. And in the 4th District, Wayne Steele defeated Arnold White in the Democratic primary to challenge Desjarlas.
Currently, Republicans hold seven of Tennessee’s congressional seats, while Democrats hold two.
In a Republican-dominated legislature, all 99 of Tennessee’s state House seats are up for election this year. There are currently 15 open seats, most of which are held by Republicans. Twenty-one seats include Republican primaries and nine contested Democratic primaries.
Some incumbent lawmakers lost their primary races.
Republican Rep. Maryville Bob Ramsey did not survive a challenge from the right against Brian Ritchie, an insurance agent in Maryville.
Republican Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, a Lancaster gospel singer and songwriter known for her serenades at the Statehouse, was defeated by Michael Hale, a Smithville funeral home owner and farmer.
Openings include the seat of disgraced former House Speaker Glenn Casada, who was ousted from the top job in 2019 after a series of scandals. Former GOP Rep. Robin Smith resigned earlier this year after facing federal charges alleging he ran a political consultant kickback scheme with Casada and his former chief of staff, neither of whom has been charged to date.
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Justin Jones, a black activist known for protesting at the Capitol, was elected Thursday to a House seat for the Nashville district. Jones, 26, was once temporarily banned from the Capitol after being arrested for throwing a cup of liquid at a casada. The ban has since been lifted.
In the Senate, 17 of the 33 seats are on the ballot, with four GOP primaries and two contested Democratic races.
All five Tennessee Supreme Court justices were retained. Jeff Bivins, Sarah Campbell, Holly Kirby, Sharon Lee and Roger Page were running for eight-year retention elections, meaning voters decide whether to let them keep their seats. Rejections are extremely rare.
Other major races
Shelby, Tennessee’s most populous city, has a few major races.
County Mayor Lee Harris was challenged by Memphis City Council member Worth Morgan. Harris was a black Democrat seeking a second four-year term. Morgan, a white Republican, has served on the council since 2016.
Republican incumbent and longtime Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, who has served in the post since 2011, faces Democratic civil rights attorney, law professor and former county commissioner Steve Mulroy.
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With all county precinct results reported Friday, Mulroy defeated Weirich in the district attorney race and Harris edged out Morgan in the mayoral race.
Mulroy and Weyrich clashed and became the subject of abortion lawsuits under the state’s pending “trigger law.” The law would essentially ban all abortions statewide and make it a felony to perform the procedure.
Mulroy said he would make prosecuting abortionists a “very low” priority. Weyrich did not specifically say whether she would sue abortion doctors, saying that doing so would violate Tennessee code that prohibits prosecutors from issuing “a broad and fanciful statement without an actual allegation or case.”