Tennessee State Capitol (Getty Images)
Four days after Tennessee Democrats made slight progress in statehouse races, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Mary Mancini is set to leave the post, announcing Saturday she will not seek re-election in 2021.
“It has been an honor of a lifetime to work with Democrats across the state and serve the Tennessee Democratic Party as chair for the last six years,” Mancini said to the party’s executive committee in a conference call meeting. “I am excited to see what’s next for the party, and I look forward to helping the new chair in whatever capacity is needed.”
Numerous people have already lined up to run for the post when the party holds elections in January 2021, including Washington County Democratic Party Chair, Kate Craig. Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, is considering a run as well but has made no decision.
Democrats won only one seat in the Nov. 3 election as Heidi Campbell defeated Republican state Sen. Steve Dickerson, moving out a moderate Republican voice in the conservative state Senate.
The outcome leaves Democrats with 26 House members, while Republicans hold 73 seats, a supermajority that enables the GOP to do as it pleases. Democrats will hold six of 33 seats in the Senate.
Because of that overwhelming deficit, Democrats can pass no legislation without strong support of Republicans and usually find themselves in the position of spoiler on any issues in dispute between Republicans.
Before announcing her decision, Mancini announced Vice President Joe Biden had just been proclaimed the victor in the presidential election, after four days of vote counts in battleground states. The word drew cheers from the executive committee and nearly derailed the party’s conference call meeting.
Mancini pointed toward two crucial numbers in the vote, 68% voter turnout amid a record of more than 3 million votes, as well as the 60.7% vote share by President Donald Trump, which affected votes down the ballot and created “an unpredictable environment.”
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris won 37% of the vote in Tennessee, up from Hillary Clinton’s 34% in 2016.
U.S. Senate candidate Marquita Bradshaw, who lost to Republican Bill Hagerty, ran slightly behind Biden.
“We had so many strong candidates and campaigns, made smart investments and collaborated between us and the House caucus and the Senate caucus, Tennessee Democrats were not only able to hold the line at the state Legislature but continue to cut into the GOP supermajority in the state,” Mancini told the executive committee.
During Tuesday’s election, the party failed to pick up contested seats in House races, narrowly losing a Shelby County race in which Democrat Gabby Salinas fell by about 450 votes to Republican John Gillespie. The party continues to monitor that race for any provisional votes that could change the count, but the outcome is not expected to be altered.
Democrats did hold on to seats in Clarksville, Cordova and Knoxville where Reps. Jason Hodges, Dwayne Thompson and Gloria Johnson captured convincing wins in races that were predicted to be tighter. In addition, Democrat Torrey Harris trounced independent candidate John DeBerry, who was removed from the Democratic ticket in April because of a history of siding with Republicans on key issues such as vouchers and abortion.
Republicans passed legislation enabling DeBerry to run as an independent, and he received financial support from Republicans during the race.
Mancini’s decision came a day after House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville announced he doesn’t plan to seek the caucus leadership position again. Reps. Vincent Dixie and John Ray Clemmons have announced they are running for the caucus post, and Rep. Bo Mitchell of Davidson County could be in the running as well.
Saying the Democratic Party has more work to do, Mancini pointed out the group “threw open the doors” to more people, including the LGBT community, “breaking down the barriers of color and creed and sexual orientation and gender and gender identity” for people previously excluded from the political process.
“We said come on in, and then we got back to basics,” Mancini said. “We got back to grass-roots organizing and marching in the streets, candidate recruitment that reflected the demographics of the state.”
Mancini contended the party “defined who we were” instead of allowing Republicans to define the party.
“We recruited candidates who were proud to be Democrats and unabashedly said so.
Executive committee members commended Mancini for bringing educational programs to the party on campaigning and incorporating statistics, as well as pointing toward the need to expand efforts in rural areas.
The Democratic Party once held sway in rural Middle and West Tennessee but saw that power begin to erode 20 to 25 years ago.
Republican leaders say they’ve been able to capture a supermajority and hold on to it because of their efforts to keep Tennessee a low-tax state and budget conservatively. Efforts on social issues such as abortion restrictions and the Second Amendment have helped Republicans gain votes as well.
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