Election 2020: Live primary coverage

By: and - August 6, 2020 7:13 pm
(Photo: Hill Street Studios/Getty Images)

(Photo: Hill Street Studios/Getty Images)

Get your Election 2020 primary coverage from the Tennessee Lookout, as we keep you posted on hotly contested races from East Tennessee’s Republican primary in Congressional District 1 to District 9 in Memphis, and General Assembly races in between.


2 years ago

After record absentee votes are counted, Campbell appears to win District 20 Dem primary

By: - Friday August 7, 2020 6:21 am

The District 20 Democratic primary flipped in the middle of the night as the Davidson County Election Commission counted thousands of absentee ballots, leading Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell to a come-from-behind victory over educator Kimi Abernathy.

Campbell will move on to face two-term incumbent state Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, who is the only Republican lawmaker whose entire district is encompassed by Davidson County.

Abernathy led after the early vote and election day totals by 2 percent, which was about 600 votes. There were thousands more absentee voters than normal in Nashville after Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle allowed voters to request mail-in ballots out of fear of contracting COVID-19. The state Supreme Court reversed Lyle.

With so many more ballots to count, the election commission didn’t announce the totals until after 1 a.m. Campbell finished with 13,267 votes to Abernathy’s 12,525. Campbell earned about 1,400 more absentee votes than Abernathy.

Democrats closely followed the District 20 primary, believing they fielded to strong candidates with the chops to defeat Dickerson. A Democrat hasn’t defeated a Republican for a state Senate seat since 2006.

Campbell is a music industry executive who got into politics over a neighborhood zoning issue and then was elected to the Oak Hill council. She raised more money than Abernathy, though both did well at fundraising.

There were two other Democratic primaries viewed as contested races, and both were easily won by the incumbents. State Rep. Mike Stewart fended off Pastor James Turner by about 1,600 votes. State Rep. Vincent Dixie drubbed frequent candidate Terry Clayton by about 2,200 votes.

2 years ago

U.S. Senate Race: Establishment pic for the GOP, upset in the Democratic primary

By: - Thursday August 6, 2020 9:44 pm

In spite of predictions the Republican primary race between former ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty and Dr. Manny Sethi would come down to the wire, Hagerty won by 10 percentage points.

On the Democratic side, Marquita Bradshaw, an environmental activist from Memphis who raised $8,000, bested James Mackler, who entered the race in January 2019 and raised over $2 million. Mackler came in third place behind Bradshaw and Robin Kimbrough Hayes, a Nashville attorney.

Bill Hagerty (Wikipedia)
Bill Hagerty (Photo: Wikipedia)

Hagerty was viewed as the establishment pick and veteran Republican campaign professionals, including strategies Ward Baker and former Tennessee Republican Party Executive Director Michael Sullivan steered his campaign. His message throughout the campaign was simple: “President Trump supports me.”

Sethi, a trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, ran an aggressive populist campaign that appealed to grassroots activists. Some GOP operatives speculated that the COVID-19 pandemic hurt Sethi’s chances by limiting his ability to deploy his personal charm at campaign events and rallies.

Nonetheless, both GOP candidates participated in a number of large public events, without wearing masks, which drew particular scorn for Sethi given his medical credentials. After an attendee at the July 31 Hamilton County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner tested positive for COVID-19, both candidates announced they would get tested.

Hagerty, educated at Vanderbilt University for both undergraduate and law school, served as commissioner of economic and community development for former Gov. Bill Haslam before Trump appointed him ambassador to Japan.

Marquita Bradshaw, Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate (Photo: Ballotpedia)
Marquita Bradshaw, Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate (Photo: Ballotpedia)

Mackler, an attorney who frequently touted his experience as a U.S. Army veteran who enlisted in the military after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, first ran for the Senate seat now held by Marsha Blackburn. He withdrew from that race in December 2017 when former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the eventual Democratic nominee, entered the race.

He was the presumed favorite in the race, given the length of time his campaign had operated and his funding advantage. Mackler was endorsed by national organizations including VoteVets, which was founded by Iran War veterans to boost other vets to political office and Giffords Courage to Fight Gun Violence.

Bradshaw’s win is in line with a recent trend of progressive women, and in particular, Black progressive women, winning races.

Last updated: 10:05 pm

2 years ago

Cooper closes in on 16th term in Congress

By: - 9:29 pm

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper is on track to win his 15th term in Congress after his victory on Thursday over progressive challenger Keeda Haynes in the District 5 Democratic primary.

Cooper represented the since-redistricted fourth congressional district in the 1980s and early 90s for six terms. When the districts were redrawn, he won a competitive primary in 2002 to represent District 5 and has held the seat ever since.

Rep. Jim Cooper
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The challenge from against Haynes marked Cooper’s closest primary challenge to date. The Associated Press called the race for Cooper with thousands of absentee votes still uncounted and the incumbent owning a 4,000 vote lead.

With the victory, Nashville’s top two elected officials will remain from the same family. Cooper’s brother is Nashville Mayor John Cooper.

Haynes earned the endorsements of several progressive groups and claimed about 40 percent of the vote before absentee ballots were counted. Haynes served prison time as a young woman following a drug related arrest, but went on to earn her law degree and work in the Davidson County Public Defender Office.

She focused on criminal justice reform, the most pervasive issue in Nashville politics: a point that was made clear on a day when reform activists got their wish as Police Chief Steve Anderson’s retirement was moved up by several months.

Considering her compelling backstory and successful run despite a funding disadvantage, Haynes established herself as a force for future campaigns.

In a Facebook live post, Cooper vowed to focus on the economy, expanding healthcare coverage and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he intends to listen to those who voted for him, as well as those who did not, describing himself as a “good talker, but a better listener.”

Cooper mentioned working together to fix the criminal justice system as a goal during his upcoming term.

“It’s a big job to represent the 700,000-plus people who live in our district,” Cooper said. “So many people are hurting right now. These are the toughest economic times we’ve had probably since the Great Depression. A tourism and music town like Nashville is particularly hard-hit.

“But my goals are to make sure that we all can beat the virus together. That we can all get the economic support we need during these extremely tough times, keep our families together, to keep our homes safe and to keep everybody well-fed.”

Last updated: 9:35 pm

2 years ago

Incumbents cruise in Nashville school board races

By: - 8:35 pm

Three Nashville school board incumbents cruised to reelection on Thursday, including North Nashville board member Sharon Gentry who won a race some expected to be close.

Gentry earned a third term by downing challenger Robert Taylor and underdog Barry Barlow.

Some insiders wondered if there was a lane to beat Gentry after she backed a plan to consolidate some under-enrolled schools in her district.

Gentry won her race along with District 5 incumbent board member Christiane Buggs, who represents much of East Nashville, and District 7 board member Freda Player-Peters, whose district covers south Nashville. Player-Peters was appointed to the seat by Metro Council after firebrand board member Will Pinkston resigned.

The board will welcome two newcomers in Emily Masters and Abigail Tylor.

Masters district includes East Nashville, Inglewood, Madison and Goodlettsville. She breezed past challenger Brian Hubert, whose campaign received funding help from an unregistered group called the Nashville Parents Committee. Many observers believe the group is tied to pro-education reform funding.

Masters replaces retiring board member Jill Speering.

Tylor earned the endorsement of departing board member Amy Frogge, along with other Bellevue area politicians such as Councilman Dave Rosenberg and state Rep. Bo Mitchell.

The successful slate of candidates continues the Nashville trend in recent elections of winning school board candidates who are skeptical of charter schools and education reform.

Last updated: 8:36 pm

2 years ago

Races to watch in Nashville

By: - 6:11 pm

In addition to the District 5 Congressional primary, there are several competitive state legislative and school board races to watch in Nashville.

I’m sure fans of Nashville politics know to frantically begin hitting refresh at 7 p.m. on the Election Commission results page.

One of the most competitive state House primaries pits incumbent Rep. Mike Stewart against challenger James Turner for District 52 seat that stretches from East Nashville to Antioch. Incumbent Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, also has a competitive race against Terry Clayton for the district encompassing parts of North and East Nashville.

One of the most watched and most expensive races is the District 20 Senate primary pitting lifelong educator and activist Kimi Abernathy against Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell. Here is our profile of that race.

There are three competitive school board races – incumbents Christiane Buggs and Freda Player-Peters are unopposed. Incumbent District 1 board member Sharon Gentry is facing a stiff challenge from Robert Taylor. There’s a third underdog candidate Barry Barlow.

In two open races, the perceived frontrunners are the candidates backed by the outgoing members. District 9 board member Amy Frogge, who is retiring from the board, supported newcomer Abigail Tylor in her race against Russelle Ann Bradbury. And retiring District 3 board member Jill Speering backed Emily Masters, who is facing Brian Hubert. There was opaque pro-education reform money that paid for mail pieces for Hubert in recent weeks.

Last updated: 7:19 pm

2 years ago

Congressional incumbents challenged by progressives

By: - 3:45 pm

Across the country, Democratic congressmen have been getting challenged from the ranks of young, liberal candidates, a trend that began when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district in 2018.

Tuesday night, activist Cori Bush beat 10-term incumbent William Lacy Clay in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.

Tennessee isn’t immune to the trend and Thursday’s primary features similar matchups in congressional district 5 and congressional district 9.

District 5 is composed of Nashville/Davidson County, most of Cheatham County and some of Dickson. The Cook Political Report rates the district solidly Democratic and indeed, Jim Cooper, who has represented the district since 2002, has handily won since then. He’s also had no primary opponent since his first race in D5.

Keeda Haynes stands on the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge (Photo: Submitted)
Keeda Haynes stands on the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge (Photo: Submitted)

This year, he has two primary opponents, with one, Keeda Haynes, fitting the model for the current crop. She’s  42 to Cooper’s 66 and Black to his white. She received her undergraduate degree from a public HBCU; Cooper from the University of North Carolina and Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. She’s also significantly more liberal, advocating for the Green New Deal and receiving and endorsement from “Our Revolution,” a group that grew out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. Cooper was a founder of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats.

Judging from liberal twitter, Haynes has a shot at unseating Cooper and Cooper, a careful politician, is taking no chances, airing ads with former President Barack Obama praising him.

But as of Friday, the penultimate day of early voting, 62% of early voters in Davidson County were white and about two-thirds were over the age of 50, both groups that skew more moderate.

In Memphis, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, who was elected in 2006 when Harold Ford, Jr. vacated the seat for a U.S. Senate run, is opposed by Corey Strong, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, commander in the Naval Reserves and an attorney. Strong is Black.

Corey Strong (Photo: the901strong.com)
Corey Strong (Photo: the901strong.com)

During the Civil Rights era, D9 was redrawn and as of 1967 became an urban Memphis district and the only majority-minority district in Tennessee.

That Cohen is not Black has rankled some Memphis Black activists since his election and he usually draws a primary challenger, unlike Cooper.

Both Cooper and Cohen are known for solid constituent services. Both have a substantial financial advantage over their challengers. Cooper showed $714,000 on his July filing. Haynes has raised $101,000, a respectable amount for a first time candidate with $52,000 on hand as of July 17.

Cohen has $1.2 million in his campaign account while Strong reported a negative balance of $645 as of his July 15 filing.

Both Haynes and Strong are first-time candidates, which differentiates them from Missouri’s Bush, who ran against Clay in 2018 and had already built name recognition.

2 years ago

John Partipilo: Shots from the Election Day

By: and - 3:04 pm

Trusty photojournalist John Partipilo documented primary day in Nashville, going to Cathedral of Praise in North Nashville, East Park Community Center and Shelby Park. Partipilo captured U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper campaigning outside Cathedral of Praise and State House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Stewart at Shelby Park. Cooper has two opponents; Stewart has one.

As earlier described by Nate Rau, poll workers are garbed in full body protection, including gowns and gloves, and Partipilo shoots workers, voters and enthusiastic campaigners for Robert Taylor, candidate for Metro Nashville Schools Board.

Last updated: 3:48 pm

2 years ago

How voting in person during a pandemic works

By: - 12:09 pm

To make sure I was among the first to vote this morning, I arrived 15 minutes early to my precinct at the Minerva Cultural Center in Whites Creek. I was first in line, but two voters came just after me and we all stayed six feet apart.

When the door opened at 7 a.m., a woman in a hospital gown, goggles and face covering immediately met me with a clipboard in her hand. She asked me if I had a fever over 100 degrees, if I had a cough or other symptoms and if I had been exposed to anyone who tested positive for COVID-19. My answer was “no” to each, but had I said yes, I would have been directed to a private room to vote.

When I was directed to the table to pick my primary ballot, a woman asked me to place my photo identification on the white printout that would be inserted into the voting machine. This way, the poll worker didn’t have to touch my driver’s license.

After several minutes of hold-up because of a a printer problem, the poll worker printed the receipt that all voters must sign. I brought my own pen, but other voters were offered pens that they were then allowed to keep. This way, no possibly contaminated pens will be re-used. Voters are also able to use the pen instead of their fingers to make their voting selections on the touch screen.

All poll workers were wearing masks, and one other worker was also clad in the fully protected setup as the woman who greeted me at the door. I was offered an “I voted” sticker as I exited like normal. However, there was no hand sanitizer when exiting and probably my only “complaint” about the process was having to open the exit door that theoretically could have been touched by someone with the virus. Since I was first in line, it was no big deal, but it seems like a flaw in the process as the day moves on.

I was out of there by 7:15 a.m. and counted seven total people behind me. My Whites Creek district includes the contested primary between incumbent state Rep. Vincent Dixie and perennial candidate Terry Clayton. There’s also a contested race for the District 1 school board seat with incumbent Sharon Gentry and challenger Robert Taylor as the top contenders.

Last updated: 12:26 pm

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.

Nate Rau
Nate Rau

Nate Rau has a granular knowledge of Nashville’s government and power brokers, having spent more than a decade with the Tennessean, navigating the ins and outs of government deals as an investigative reporter. During his career at The Tennessean and The City Paper, he covered the music industry and Metro government and won praise for hard-hitting series on concussions in youth sports and deaths at a Tennessee drug rehabilitation center. In a state of Titans and Vols fans, Nate is an unabashed Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs fan.