Tennessee Government Update – 2020 Election Results

November 4, 2020
Firm Publication

While the country awaits the results of the presidential race, Tennessee’s unofficial results are clear with Republicans winning the night. As expected, President Trump was the clear winner in Tennessee with unofficial results showing him winning with almost 60% of the vote. In the U.S. Senate race to replace the retiring Lamar Alexander, Bill Hagerty decisively defeated Democrat Marquita Bradshaw. In the state house, the makeup of the General Assembly will remain mostly unchanged as the Republicans have again kept their supermajorities. In the House, Democrats did not win a single new seat, leaving the Republican advantage 73-26. In the Senate, the Democrats flipped one seat, but Republicans will maintain a healthy supermajority advantage at 27-6.

U.S. Senate

Republican Bill Hagerty will officially replace Tennessee’s senior Senator Lamar Alexander, who is retiring after 18 years in the upper chamber. President Trump’s former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Hagerty defeated Democrat Marquita Bradshaw, a political newcomer from Memphis. Bradshaw surprised many by upsetting establishment-backed James Mackler in the Democratic primary, despite having raised less than $10,000 compared to Mackler’s $2.1 million. Nevertheless, Hagerty was always expected to win the general election handily, and Wednesday’s unofficial results show him with 62% of the vote.

U.S. House of Representatives

It was a relatively quiet night in the lower chamber, with only one open congressional seat and no competitively contested races. Rep. Phil Roe’s (R) retirement left TN-01 open, but that race was largely settled in a highly competitive and crowded Republican primary. Kingsport native Diana Harshbarger cruised to victory with nearly 75% of the unofficial votes being counted in her favor. Harshbarger will be the first female to represent District 1. The other eight Tennessee congressional incumbents easily won reelection.

Tennessee Senate

With half of the Tennessee Senate up for reelection, Democrats realistically hoped to gain two seats. Unofficial results show that they will pick up only one, flipping District 20 in Nashville. District 20 incumbent Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) faced former Oak Hill Mayor, Heidi Campbell, in a highly contentious and expensive race. Unofficial results show Campbell winning with nearly 52% of the vote. As a result of this defeat, Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) will be the sole Republican member of the Davidson County delegation and there will be a new chair of the Senate State and Local Committee.

Democrats had hoped to win District 10 in Chattanooga as incumbent Republican Todd Gardenhire faced Democrat Glenn Scruggs. Gardenhire was able to pull away with the win with unofficial results showing him winning with 53% of the vote. The only open seat was in West Tennessee in District 26 where Republican Page Walley successfully won Sen. Dolores Gresham’s vacated seat.

Tennessee House of Representatives

While each of the House seats was on the ballot, the Republicans managed to prevent the Democrats from flipping a single seat. Republicans will still hold 73 seats and Democrats 26 in the 99 member body. While the balance of power remains unchanged, history was made last night when Eddie Mannis (R-Knoxville) and Torrey Harris (D-Memphis) became the first openly LGBTQ politicians to be elected to the Tennessee General Assembly.

Below is a list of notable victories and losses in the election:

  • District 18 (Knox County): In the race to succeed retiring Rep. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville), Republican Businessman Eddie Mannis defeated Democrat Virginia Couch.
  • District 63 (Williamson County): Former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) faced a challenge by Democrat Elizabeth Madeira. Casada won with nearly 60% of the vote.
  • District 90 (Shelby County): Following his ouster from the Democratic Party, the 26-year state House veteran, John DeBerry, was defeated by Democrat Torrey Harris. Harris won with 77% of the vote.
  • District 97 (Shelby County): The open race for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) was a seat Democrats had hoped to flip. Unofficial results show that Republican John Gillespie narrowly defeated Democrat Gabby Salinas by less than 500 votes.

The House Republicans will hold leadership elections on Tuesday, November 24. There will be competition in the Majority Leader race as Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville) challenges current Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland). Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) will be running against Robin Smith (R-Hixson). The House Democrats and the Senate caucuses are expected to meet before January for their respective leadership elections.

The 112th General Assembly convenes on January 12, 2021. Upon their return, each chamber will formally elect a speaker. The speaker of each body will appoint the chairs of each standing committee and make committee assignments shortly thereafter. While Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) is expected to retain his position, the House committee structure is expected to see wholesale changes as Speaker Sexton begins his first full-term as Speaker of the House. It is anticipated that the Senate committee structure will remain relatively unchanged. Once all organizational business is complete, the General Assembly will convene in regular session and begin to act on legislation for the 2021 year.

If you have any questions about these election results, please contact the authors.