Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Can a Republican beat Jim Cooper?

by Rod Williams - On the wish list of every local Republican I know, is that Jim Cooper be voted out of office and be replaced by a Republican.  What are the changes of that happening? In thinking about the prospects of beating Jim Cooper, one place to start is looking at how Republicans have done in the past

Previous Challengers of Jim Cooper have not done well.
Note that the 5th Congressional District includes portions of Cheatham and Dickson Counties and Republican candidates do better in those counties than Davidson County.

In the 2018 election, the Republican got 32% of the vote. If you look at Davidson County only, he only got 29% of the vote. 


In 2016, the Republican got 37% of the vote and in Davidson County only 34% of the vote.

In 2014, the Republican got 36% of the vote, but in Davidson County only, only got 33% of the vote.

In 2012 the Republican got 33% of the vote but in Davidson County 32%.


In 2010 Republicans were really fired up.  That was the time of the tea party movement and there was a lot of energy among conservative.  There had been a spirited primary with a bunch of good Republican candidates. David Hall worked as hard as I think any candidate could work.  The Republican candidate got 42% of the vote and Jim Cooper got 56% of the vote.

However, one factor in Republicans doing better in 2010 than in years since is that the District 5 boundaries were more hospitable to Republicans. Wilson County made up a significant portion of the district.  Between 2010 and 2012 there was a new census and lines were redrawn to make the 5th even more favorable to Democrats.

If one looks at the returns one would have to conclude that the chances of a Republican beating Jim Cooper are pretty slim.  However, lets look at other factors before reaching that conclusion.

Other Republicans have not done will in Davidson County.
In the 2010 governor's race, Bill Haslam did not carry the County but came close. He got 75,381 votes compared to 76,427 for Mike McWherter.
In the 2012 presidential election Romney got 39.7% of the vote and Obama got 58.2% of the vote.
In the 2016 presidential  race Donald Trump only got 34% of the vote and Hillary Clinton got 60% of the vote.
In the 2018 governor's race, Republican Bill Lee got only 34% of the vote and former mayor Karl Dean got 66%.

However, sometimes Republicans do win in Davidson County but not often. 
In the 2014 Governors Race, Bill Haslam running for reelection got 71,661 votes compared to Democrat challenger Charlie Brown's 47,438. Brown did not present much of a challenge, however. I think that Nashville has changed so much since 2010 that is not helpful to look at races earlier than that year.

There are a lot of "yellow dog Democrats" in Nashville.

One reason it is difficult for Republicans to compete in Davidson County is that there are a lot of people who will vote Democrat no matter what. "Yellow Dog Democrats" was a political term applied to voters in the South in the past who voted only for candidates who represented the Democratic Party.  That was all these voters needed to know about a candidate, that he was a Democrat. These voters would "vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for a Republican."  Well, there are still a lot of "yellow dog Democrats in Nashville. Consider the Senate election of 2012 when the candidates were Republican Bob Corker running for reelection and Democrat challenger M. E. Clayton.

Of the votes cast in this contest 48% voted for Bob Corker and 45% voted for Clayton. A few votes went to other candidates.  Corker won Davidson County but not by much. M. E. Clayton had no qualifications for office, raised no money and did not campaign. He was associated with a group that some called a hate group, Public Advocate of the United States. The Democratic Party disavowed his candidacy and urged candidates to write in a candidate of their choice. State wide Corker got more than twice as many votes as Clayton but not in Nashville.  If Nashville Democrats will vote for M. E. Clayton, they will vote for any Democrat. That is a build in advantage.

There are a lot of new progressive Democrats in Nashville.
I don't have stats to back this up but observing local politics convinces me this is so. These are the mostly younger voters, many who may identify as socialist.  In the last election for Council several local affiliates of national organizations such as Code Blue, Democracy Now, National Justice League, LGBTQ Victory Fund, Women for Tennessee's Future, and Laborers’ International Union of North America were active in our election. These young progressives bring energy and manpower to an election and that does not bode well for a Republican candidate.

In conclusion, it will be very difficult to beat Jim Cooper.
As the district line are currently drawn, a Republican simply cannot beat Jim Cooper today. Republicans can get about 34% of the vote and that is it.  However, if certain thinks happen, Jim Cooper could be beatable.

What could make Jim Cooper beatable?

1. If Cooper is beat or weakened by a progressive candidate in the Democratic primary, a Republican would have a chance. Jim Cooper has picked up three challengers in the Democratic primary, all to his left, the most formidable of these is 24-year-old Vanderbilt divinity student and activist Justin Jones.  He is the person who threw coffee on Glen Casada at the State capitol building and was arrested. He is the person who at a Marsha Blackburn event, during a moment of silence to honor fallen victims of a mass shooting, yelled out "racist" and had to be physically removed from the building.  He was also arrested for that event. He has gained a following.  Many progressives in Nashville think it is time to beat Jim Cooper.  In addition to progressives who want to beat Cooper, many more mainstream Democrats are not really fond of him.  He is not a warm person.  Many consider him aloof and arrogant. By all accounts he does not have much of a grassroots organization.
 In normal times one would think a person like Jones would not stand a chance but if a bartender named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can be elected to Congress, anything is possible.  If Jones got the nomination, I believe a Republican  could beat Jones.  If Jones does not win the nomination but comes close in a bitter campaign, then progressives may choose to not vote for Cooper in November.  They, of course, will not vote for a Republican but may sit out the election. 
2. If Jim Cooper's leftward move is exploited he could be beatable. I have never thought of Jim Cooper as a conservative but he at one time at least talked about the dangers of the national debt.  Recently he endorsed the Green New Deal. I suspect many voters have heard of the Green New Deal but are not really aware of what it calls for. I suspect many who are concerned about global warming, think the Green New Deal is a positive thing.  Once they learn what radical changes it calls for and the price tag, they will turn against politicians who endorse it. 
3. If the above two things happen, the right Republican could stand a chance of winning. Despite the case I build above that it will be difficult for a Republican to win a seat in Davidson County without redrawing the district, I do not think it hopeless. Here are some reasons why.  1.)Nashville is not as liberal as it first may appear.  John Cooper ran for mayor on a platform of fiscal responsibility and defeated an incumbent mayor who wore a pussy hat to protest Trump's election and advocated that Nashville be a Sanctuary city.  2.) The voters voted against a new tax to fund mass transit.  3.) The voters elected  Steve Glover, an avowed conservative and Republican to one of the five at-large Council seats.  These were all non-partisan votes but it does indicated that Nashville is not hopelessly liberal.
If Jim Cooper had been weakened or beaten in a primary the right Republican could stand a chance. It would still be an uphill battle but the district could be competitive.  The candidates who have challenged Jim Cooper are all good people and I would be pleased if any of them were serving in Congress but they were not well know prior to running and they were not adequately funded. A Republican can not unseat Jim Cooper without a lot of money. I don't know how much but just a guess is about $1.5 million. In Megan Barry's successful race for mayor, she raised $1.1 million. The right Republican candidate needs to be someone who has previous success in their career and is known in the community already and someone who is moderate in rhetoric and demeanor. 
4. By far the most important thing that would help a Republican win Jim Cooper's seat if the district was redrawn to make it competitive for a Republican. Every ten years the State has to redraw district lines so that each district represents about the same number of people. The State legislature will redistrict this year. There is no reason Davidson County could not be split. The 5th Congressional District is surrounded by solidly Republican districts that Republicans win by big margins. District could be redrawn so that a Republican could have a chance in Davidson County. In 2020 there will be a new census and district lines will have to be redrawn with new district boundaries in effect in 2022. Republicans in the house could split the Davidson County vote among two or three districts. This could be done in such a way that Republicans now in office would not in danger of losing an existing seat but that a Republican would have a chance in Davidson County. 
I know there are some smart people with political insight reading this blog.  If you have insight on this topic, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

1 comment:

  1. No Republican has won the Nashville district for Congress since 1872 (not a typo, this was during President Ulysses Grant's reelection). But this came under peculiar circumstances, as the Democrat incumbent and another Democrat Independent split the vote and allowed the Republican, Horace Harrison Harrison (his actual name) to win with just 42% of the vote. https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=627187

    When Harrison ran for reelection in 1874 in a redrawn district (6th), the Dems were united and he only got less than 38%. https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=627226

    Because the Republican party has been historically weak to non-existent in Nashville, there has never been a serious push in the modern era to win the 5th district. There was a mild backlash in the 1960s after left-leaning Dick Fulton beat the Conservative Democrat incumbent J. Carlton Loser in the infamous 1962 contest. Whereas before 1962 the GOP ran desultory opponents, the 1964-1968 candidates jumped to 37-42% of the vote.

    1968 was Fulton's worst year for reelection, he received a paltry 48.7%. But he still lucked out as the Republican, who was just 6% behind, had a spoiler Americanite candidate (George Wallace-aligned candidate) took a key 9% that could've allowed the Republican to win. The same Republican ran again in 1970, but performed poorly, getting just 29%.

    From that point on, Republicans could count on getting roughly that 30s% range, sometimes less if the candidate was simply "on the ballot." Only one candidate from 1968 onwards cracked 40%, and that was David Hall in 2010 (42.07%), who received a fraction less than George Kelly did in 1968, but Jim Cooper still received over 56%.

    I made a suggestion some time ago about perhaps splitting Davidson County three ways to dilute the Democrat vote and capture a redrawn 5th, but there is a serious downside to doing that. You would end up making the other adjacent districts cutting through Davidson County marginal. In a bad year for the GOP (like a 2006 or 2018), the Democrats could conceivably take all three of those districts, running up large Dem margins in the Davidson County portions while the Republicans took just subpar amounts due to depressed turnout in the adjacent counties.

    With no real farm team of Republicans to speak of in Davidson County other than for State Sen. Steve Dickerson (and maybe ex-Speaker Beth Harwell, but she's not exactly inspiring for the party) and now not a single House member in the legislature, and probably considerable opposition from Republican Congressmen in the adjacent districts who would want to avoid getting saddled with Davidson Democrats like the plague, I ultimately think it would be ill-advised.

    It's also possible that after the 2022 redistricting that Davidson County might become more Dem-leaning, and if it gets to 70%, there's no way to squeeze a Republican out of it without having a Dem win a redrawn 5th, so perhaps best to keep the current 7R-2D delegation and gerrymander Davidson County to take in any adjacent Dem areas outside the county and make it hyper-Dem to protect the adjacent incumbents.

    I think more importantly will be to shore up Dickerson's Senate district, which is at risk this year, and to drastically reconfigure the 9 legislative seats in Davidson County to get 3 or 4 Republicans out of it instead of being utterly shut out and gives us Nashvillians no representation whatsoever in the lower body.