Update: I’ve been having internet problems, and apparently this post didn’t quite make it all the way up earlier. Below is the full version, sorry about that.
With all the news from the TN State House yesterday, one story didn’t get the coverage that it might have under different circumstances. Zach Wamp (R-TN03) announced he would surrender his seat in the 2010 election. This presents an interesting choice for Democratic up and comer Andy Berke (D TNS-10) from Chattanooga.
Berke has been mentioned as a potential Gubernatorial candidate in the 2010 election. In an email blast to supporters last week, Berke confirmed that he was exploring a run for Governor. Wamp’s decision to abandon his seat in the US House to run for the Governor’s office in 2010 creates two opportunities that Berke could explore.
Advancing in politics is not something that necessarily comes on your schedule. Opportunities often arise at the whim of the current office holder, or as the result of Term Limits (in the case of the Governor). Unseating incumbents, while more common in the past two cycles, is still a huge undertaking. The opportunity to run for an open seat in either position in the same year is something to carefully consider.
Since the Civil War, the 3rd District of TN has been represented by Republicans about 1/3 of the time. However, the 3rd has been strong Republican territory since Wamp’s election in 1994. Looking at the voting consistency in the 3rd district for statewide elections, only one Democrat in the past two cycles has won any of the counties that make up the district, Phil Bredesen who won all of them handily.
The margin of victory for candidates in the counties that make up TN-03 over the past two cycles has been pretty daunting. Aside from Bredesen’s win, the closest contender was Harold Ford Jr., who lost those counties by just under 29,000 votes.
The counties that make up TN-03 constitute about 12.2% of all the votes cast in Tennessee in the 2006 Gubernatorial election and 11.74% in the 2008 election Presidential election (Shelby was 15.4% to 15.5% in the two elections and Davidson was 9.7% to 10.1% for comparison).
Despite assertions that Barack Obama was a drag on Tennessee Democratic Candidates, Obama lost the district by 32,000 fewer votes than the Democratic challenger for the TN-03 seat, Doug Vandagriff. Still, in both cases it was a Republican landslide.
Running for the US House seat represents a challenge, but in a year with an open seat, it may be an easier hurdle than the Governor’s race. Berke already has strong support in Hamilton County, which represents half of the total vote in TN-03. Determining the strength of Berke’s potential opposition would be the biggest factor, and is probably an unknown for weeks at the very least.
On the Governor’s race side, Berke’s potential Primary opposition is already taking shape. Kim McMillan from Clarksville is in. Lincoln Davis, from the neighboring 4th District has been rumored to be seeking the position, as well as and a whole bunch of other Democrats including Harold Ford Jr. and Jim Kyle from Memphis (or wherever Ford claims to live now), Roy Herron of Dresden and Doug Horne of Knoxville.
If the Primary race is this thick, Berke will have a steep hill to climb in the Gubernatorial Primary. Davis and Ford will be strong statewide. McMillan and Herron will be fighting for supremacy in the TN-07, and 08, Ford and Kyle will be strong in TN-05, 07, 08, and 09. Berke and Horne would be competing for dominance in TN-01 through 03 and parts of TN-04 and 06. Davis and Ford have the most statewide name recognition of any of the candidates mentioned, and by extension, and instant leg up on everyone else with Kyle a very distant third.
If any of these big name people (Davis or Ford) jump in, Berke probably doesn’t have a chance. If they don’t, it’s 50-50 at best. Berke doesn’t really have anything to lose, but money, should unknowns dominate the field. Berke isn’t up for re-election in his State Senate seat until 2012.
On the flip side, if Davis gets in the Governor’s race, it may behoove Berke to go for the TN-03 seat. As much as I dislike Davis, he could be a powerful ally in the rural areas of TN-03 that shares a border with the 4th. By thinning the field, Burke could have a campaign partner for the general, and one that has the look and feel of a good old country boy. I’m not sure about Davis’ popularity in the 3rd, but he keeps winning the 4th, which is decidedly more rural.
Doing this could also set Berke up for higher office in the future. If Davis or another Democrat is successful in his bid for Governor, Burke could have a long term and powerful ally. 2012 could pit him against Corker for Senate, 2014 against an open seat left by Alexander, or Governor (should a Democrat lose in 2010) or Governor in 2018 (should a Democrat win in 2010 and 14). The opportunities are endless.
Berke is young (40) and has a lot of upside, as well as plenty of time to cultivate a greater statewide presence. Chattanoogans have dominated TN-03 since Reconstruction, winning 68% of the time. Democratic candidates (James Fraizer Jr. of Chattanooga and Marilyn Lloyd of Winchester) held the seat 24 of the last 50 years. On the flip side, timing is everything, and if Berke thinks it’s his time to run for Governor, then he has a duty to himself and the state to make a go at it.
No one said it would be easy, but having so many options is a good thing for Andy Berke. Right now he has to choose between running for Governor, Representative, or staying put. It’s his choice to make, and I don’t think any of them are bad ones for him, or the state.