On Tuesday, November 8, the state’s electorate weighed in on nine congressional House seats, the governorship, 17 of the 33 state Senate seats, the entire 99-member state House, and a slew of local elections. We wanted to take a moment to highlight the outcomes of some of the more prominent races. Note that results are unofficial before the certification process concludes in the coming days.
The 5th Congressional District
The newest iteration of the 5th Congressional District, consisting of parts of Davidson, Wilson, and Williamson counties and all of Maury, Perry, and Lewis counties, hosted the most notable race of the season. Former Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, the Republican nominee, faced Democratic state Senator Heidi Campbell. Campbell began the race touting a poll showing her with a three-point lead. Much of her fundraising and rhetoric was predicated on that narrative of momentum.
Meanwhile, Ogles nearly vanished from the general election spotlight from August to October after a contentious primary, only to resurface in November to complete a relatively low-key campaign that largely ignored his opponent. Campbell posted strong fundraising figures during the same period but ultimately fell to Ogles by more than ten percentage points. Tennessee’s congressional House delegation now favors Republicans eight members to one.
Rumors of a primary challenge to incumbent Republican Governor Lee fizzled in late 2021, with many eager candidates remaining uncertain about a plausible path to victory. When no challenger surfaced by the April 2022 filing deadline, reelection was widely viewed as a stroll in the park. Dr. Jason Martin, a Nashville pulmonologist, emerged as the Democratic nominee on a platform of COVID-19-related issues, women’s health rights, support for public schools, and legalizing cannabis; but Dr. Martin’s camp disclosed wanting fundraising figures. With pandemic matters waning, resonation attempts did not take.
Governor Lee chose to run a quiet campaign, and he surprised most watchers by nearly emptying his three-million-dollar war chest on a massive television ad buy in the closing weeks of October and early November. While some questioned the strategy, it certainly had the effect of drowning out Dr. Martin’s attempt at wholesale messaging. Governor Lee was reelected by a wide margin, with the race being called just moments after polls closed. He cannot run for the top executive spot again in 2026 due to term limits.
House District 59
Due to redistricting efforts earlier in 2022, a new state House seat was created in Davidson County. While a new district is not uncommon, it stood out due to the perceived nearly equal makeup between Democrats and Republicans in the southern Davidson County neighborhoods of parts of Bellevue, Belle Meade, Hillwood, West Meade, Forest Hills, Oak Hill, and Brentwood, among others. Democratic nominee Caleb Hemmer, a former aide to Governor Bredesen and Metro Fairground board member, faced Republican nominee Michelle Foreman, a GOP State Executive Committeewoman.
After a deliberate run to the hard right during the primary, Foreman appeared to struggle with campaign mechanics and structure. Hemmer quickly turned his primary election team into one geared toward the general, and he posted consistent, jaw-dropping fundraising numbers in the same league as more senior incumbents. Hemmer ultimately won by approximately five percentage points.
House District 18
When one-term Republican Representative Eddie Mannis, the state’s first openly gay member of his party serving in the legislature, announced he would not run again, jockeying for this purple Knoxville district seat immediately began. Elaine Davis, a former Knox County Commissioner, having captured the contested Republican nomination, faced Democratic nominee Greg Kaplan, a language and humanities professor at the University of Tennessee. Davis won convincingly.
House District 41
The longest-serving member of the state House was a Democrat, John Mark Windle, representing a part of the Upper Cumberland. Seen by many as one of the last of the so-called blue dog Democrats, Windle narrowly lost to little-known Republican nominee Ed Butler by less than five percentage points. Windle had only recently shed the Democrat label in favor of running as an Independent this cycle. His seat served as one of two pick ups for Republicans in the state House.
House District 67
Democrat incumbent Jason Hodges formally announced he would not seek reelection after the 112th General Assembly concluded. Republicans recognized the potential opportunity to gain a seat and fielded an experienced candidate in Tommy Vallejos. Vallejos was Men’s Chair of the Montgomery County GOP and is a two-decade U.S. Army veteran. Democratic nominee Ronnie Glynn, also a U.S. Army veteran, competed from the beginning with notable fundraising dollars and state party support. Ultimately, Glynn emerged as the winner by a slim 150-vote margin.
Four state constitutional amendments were also on the ballot. The Tennessee Constitution does not provide for a citizen-initiated ballot measure. Thus, to reach the ballot, a proposed amendment must pass two different, consecutive general assemblies—first by a simple majority and the next by two-thirds. Finally, the proposal must receive more than 50% approval of those who vote for governor in the immediately proceeding election.
The first proposed amendment would constitutionally enshrine current laws preventing workplaces from requiring mandatory labor union membership as a condition of employment. The second concerned succession procedure should the governor not be able to exercise his duties due to a disability. Proposed amendment three would remove language from the state constitution that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments and replace the language with the statement, “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited.”
The final proposal would remove language that disqualifies preachers from serving in the legislature, which has long been made moot by prior United States Supreme Court rulings. Typically, once constitutional amendments reach the ballot, the chances of being adopted are very high. This series was no different. An overwhelming margin approved each amendment.
Low Voter Turnout Persists
Traditional wisdom suggests that the lack of a competitive statewide general election lowers election enthusiasm. Additionally, midterm turnout has been lower in contemporary elections relative to presidential cycles. In this state, neither United States Senator was on the ballot. Of nine congressional seats, one drew particular interest. A true gubernatorial challenge never materialized. The state Senate did not have a tightly contested general election, and the state House only had a handful of races that warranted serious discussion. The state constitutional amendments, on the whole, had a more wonkish appeal than those states with more—socially consequential—questions to answer directly.
As a result, the sluggish figures we saw in this year’s primary cycle persisted in the general. When compared to 2018, early voting figures saw an approximate overall drop of more than 36%. Not a single county reported an increase in early voting. In the end, very few seats changed party hands, maintaining the Republican legislative supermajority in both houses and congressional dominance. To review a full accounting of results, visit the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website.
The 113th General Assembly
It is likely that Lt. Governor & Speaker of the Senate Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton will be nominated to their respective top chamber positions by their party’s membership later this month during caucus meetings. If so, it is all but certain that Lt. Governor McNally and Speaker Sexton will lead the General Assembly for the next two years. The hottest social topics are expected to be abortion and exceptions, as well as gender assignment procedures and various therapies. Additionally, criminal justice matters, rural county infrastructure, and fiscal policy will be at the forefront. The 113th General Assembly is scheduled to convene at noon on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.
If you have any questions about the election results or the upcoming 113th General Assembly, please contact the authors.