Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean won their respective party nominations for governor Thursday night and will face off in November’s general election.
Lee, a Nashville-area businessman, was a dark horse candidate when the first polls emerged earlier this year. However, with nearly 37 percent of the vote, he defeated fellow businessman Randy Boyd and Rep. Diane Black, a central Tennessee congresswoman who had received endorsements from Vice President Mike Pence and the National Rifle Association. Meanwhile, Boyd had support from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and every major Republican mayor in the state. While Lee lacked the high profile endorsements, he embarked on a statewide campaign that saw him visit 95 counties in 95 days where he spoke at 100 town halls.
On the Democratic side, Dean, the former mayor of Nashville, took more than 75 percent of the party vote, defeating Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who had nearly 20 percent. Dean out-raised Fitzhugh 15-to-1 and spent four times as much throughout the race.
In the primary for U.S. Senate, former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen and Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn will square off for the open seat vacated by Republican Bob Corker. Both Blackburn and Bredesen easily clinched their party’s nomination Thursday night.
Tennessee, which went heavily for Donald Trump in 2016, has not had more than two consecutive terms of one party’s control of the governorship since Republican Winfield Dunn broke a Democratic streak that had lasted from 1923 until 1971.
The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections have both given this race a “Likely Republican” rating. Meanwhile, both publications have categorized the senate race as “Lean Republican.”