Sub­urbs may play ma­jor role in U.S. Se­nate race

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY JOEL EBERT AND NATALIE AL­LI­SON

Brent­wood, Ten­nessee, res­i­dent Judy Par­tain is plan­ning to cast a bal­lot for Repub­li­can se­na­to­rial nom­i­nee Marsha Black­burn in this year’s midterm elec­tions, de­spite hav­ing an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for former Demo­cratic Gov. Phil Bre­desen.

“I liked what Bre­desen did as gover­nor, and if he wasn’t a Demo­crat, I’d be vot­ing for him,” she said, adding that the GOP must main­tain con­trol of the Se­nate.

And although Par­tain has reached her de­ci­sion, she is part of a key de­mo­graphic that could de­cide the fate of this year’s U.S. Se­nate race: sub­ur­ban vot­ers.

Ex­perts on both sides of the po­lit­i­cal aisle are eye­ing how vot­ers on the out­skirts of Ten­nessee’s ma­jor cities may help tilt the bal­ance in the cam­paign to re­place re­tir­ing U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.

“We know that Pres­i­dent [Don­ald] Trump is rel­a­tively weaker in well-ed­u­cated sub­ur­ban ar­eas than have been other Repub­li­can can­di­dates for pres­i­dent,” said Whit Ayres, a Repub­li­can poll­ster and pres­i­dent of North Star Opin­ion Re­search.

In­deed, Trump won Ten­nessee over­all by 26 per­cent­age points in 2016. He car­ried some ru­ral coun­ties with more than 80 per­cent of the vote. But in sub­ur­ban ar­eas, his sup­port wasn’t as strong.

Ayres said in 2016, Repub­li­cans traded large, fast-grow­ing up­scale coun­ties for slow­grow­ing down­scale coun­ties.

“It worked for Don­ald Trump in 2016 by the hair of his chinny, chin chin. But it’s not a for­mula for long-term suc­cess,” he said.

Take for ex­am­ple Franklin, Ten­nessee, where Trump’s mar­gin of vic­tory over Hil­lary Clin­ton was nar­rower. In fact, in two precincts near down­town Franklin, Trump won by fewer than

100 votes, ac­cord­ing to a re­cently pub­lished map from The New York Times de­tail­ing precinct-level re­sults na­tion­wide from the 2016 elec­tion.

Like­wise, in some precincts near Murfreesboro, Trump won by less than 10 per­cent­age points. The same holds true in the Mem­phis sub­urbs near Ger­man­town and in the sub­urbs around Knoxville.

They are ar­eas where vot­ers such as Murfreesboro res­i­dent Lind­sey Robert­son live. Although she still is re­search­ing the can­di­dates, she could see her­self vot­ing for Bre­desen.

Robert­son, who voted for Trump in 2016, said she prefers to vote for some­one based on is­sues.

Not­ing she’s a reg­is­tered nurse who op­poses the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana for recre­ational use, Robert­son said there are cer­tain things that Black­burn sup­ports “that I don’t.”

POLLS SHOW SUB­URBS, WOMEN KEY FOR BRE­DESEN

And Robert­son is not alone in her open­ness to con­sid­er­ing Bre­desen.

A re­cent poll from NBC News and Marist Col­lege found 52 per­cent of sub­ur­ban re­spon­dents said they would vote for Bre­desen, com­pared to 43 per­cent for Black­burn.

Ayres said another de­mo­graphic the pres­i­dent, and Repub­li­cans more gen­er­ally, have strug­gled to at­tract is col­lege-ed­u­cated women.

“[They] are the weak­est of the de­mo­graphic cat­e­gories among whites for Trump and for Repub­li­cans, un­less the can­di­date ap­peals to them,” he said.

Seiz­ing on the state’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape in the sub­urbs, Bre­desen has worked to at­tract and show his sup­port from women. In re­cent months, he’s hosted round­table dis­cus­sions through­out the state, specif­i­cally aimed at talk­ing with women about health care.

Last week his cam­paign an­nounced “Women United for Bre­desen” — a group the cam­paign boasts has 50,000 Ten­nesseans aimed at pro­vid­ing a “space for women” to or­ga­nize and high­light is­sues im­por­tant to them.

“It’s no se­cret that sub­ur­ban women, you know, are prob­a­bly one of the keys,” Bre­desen said in an Au­gust in­ter­view with the USA To­day Net­work-Ten­nessee.

Black­burn — who is hop­ing to be­come the first woman in Ten­nessee elected to statewide of­fice — has sel­dom talked about her gen­der. Last month Black­burn launched an ad not­ing her op­po­si­tion to sex traf­fick­ing.

Abbi Sigler, her cam­paign spokes­woman, re­cently told The Associated Press that Black­burn will “con­tinue to fight for Ten­nessee women and fam­i­lies.”

A CRIT­I­CAL SEAT

The di­vide be­tween the two can­di­dates among fe­male vot­ers al­ready may be emerg­ing, with less than two months to go un­til the Nov. 6 elec­tion.

The NBC News/Marist poll found 55 per­cent of col­lege-ed­u­cated white women said they would vote for Bre­desen. Just 40 per­cent of such re­spon­dents said they would vote for Black­burn.

Holly McCall, chair­woman of the Wil­liamson County Demo­cratic Party, said she’s con­stantly hear­ing from women who want to vol­un­teer for Bre­desen’s cam­paign.

McCall, who grew up in Wil­liamson County and has seen it shift po­lit­i­cally over time, said she re­mained op­ti­mistic Democrats are turn­ing the tide in an area dom­i­nated by the GOP in re­cent years.

“There does seem to be a shift to­wards the cen­ter in the last cou­ple of years,” she said, not­ing that Wil­liamson County was the only county in the state to not vote for Trump in the 2016 Repub­li­can pri­mary.

“When the Repub­li­cans try to tar him with some of the tags that they like to put on Democrats, like a Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer Demo­crat, peo­ple know Phil Bre­desen and they just don’t be­lieve that,” she said.

Ayres said in or­der for Black­burn to suc­ceed, she will need to re­mind vot­ers of what would hap­pen if Democrats take con­trol of the U.S. Se­nate. Ten­nessee is among a hand­ful of states seen as a bat­tle­ground in the midterm elec­tions.

“It’s the task of the Marsha Black­burn cam­paign to per­suade them,” he said, “that if they vote for Bre­desen that may be the crit­i­cal seat that gives the ma­jor­ity to Democrats.”

It’s that rea­son, Par­tain — the Brent­wood Repub­li­can — said she planned to vote for Black­burn.

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