(CN) – Voters across Tennessee will cast ballots Thursday in a primary election to determine the candidates for an open U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s office, two important positions for influencing federal and state judicial systems.
Both seats are up for grabs as Governor Bill Haslam is barred from seeking a third term and U.S. Senator Bob Corker, another Republican, announced he would not seek re-election.
Both elections come at a time when the judicial system in Tennessee is inundated by the opioid crisis and the Trump administration is leaving its mark on the federal judiciary by nominating judges at a breakneck pace.
Meanwhile, even in Tennessee, where about 60 percent of voters supported President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, ripples of the predicted midterm “blue wave” can be felt.
In an email to Courthouse News, Mary Mancini, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said the party was able to place Democratic candidates on 96 percent of the Tennessee House of Representatives races this year, a jump from 2014 when the party could only field candidates for 52 percent of the races.
“The biggest improvement in candidate recruitment in the country!” Mancini wrote.
But according to Anthony Nownes, a political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the blue wave in Tennessee will probably not be as big as Democrats hope. The party is weak in the state, he said, and Democrats recognize it's going to be a while before they become competitive in most races.
While democratic socialism is advocated for in the northeast from the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders and others, Nownes said that political philosophy is not viable for Democrats in the Volunteer State.
Despite obstacles, Nownes said, Democrats found their unicorn for the U.S. Senate race in former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen.
"He's probably the only candidate they could have come up with that had any reasonable chance because he was very popular as governor and one of the few Democrats who has a statewide name recognition factor,” Nownes told Courthouse News.
Bredesen faces two perennial Democratic candidates in Thursday’s primary, and according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings, he has raised $8.5 million. That’s about $500,000 more than the Republican who will most likely face him in November’s general election, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.
According to Aaron Pettigrew, a Republican candidate in the race for Corker’s Senate seat, Blackburn and Bredesen have skipped over the primary process to begin campaigning against each other.
The long-haul truck driver lists a phone number and email address on his campaign website that he answers personally. When Courthouse News sent him a list of questions, he answered them while parked in Earle, Arkansas, where he was hauling a load of tires.
Pettigrew described himself as a constitutionalist. And while he has a high school education, he says he has always been interested in government.
“In judicial nominations, I will bring real constitutional questions and philosophy to the process,” he wrote in an email.
Pettigrew also says he supports judicial impeachment and term limits for judges.
The Bredesen and Blackburn campaigns did not respond to a request for comment by press time.