NASHVILLE — Phil Bredesen’s campaign claimed that internal polling showed the former governor in a virtual deadlock with Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn in the race to succeed Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in the U.S. Senate. And, last week, Bredesen received some vindication in the form of new public polling data that was significantly different from other recent polls.
The new poll, released by Vanderbilt University, found Bredesen leading Blackburn by one point, 44 percent to 43 percent. The Vanderbilt poll, which had a margin of error of 4.9 points, surveyed 800 registered voters from October 8 through October 13.
The Vanderbilt poll was much different from other recent polls, which had significantly found Blackburn with a comfortable lead. A New York Times poll conducted during the same time frame placed Blackburn 14 points ahead of Bredesen. However, critics had questioned the methodology of the NYT poll, which they say only polled voters with landlines — eliminating the younger demographic that is more likely to vote for Bredesen.
Bredesen had consistently led Blackburn in public polls prior to the raucous confirmation process for Judge Brett Kavanaugh. At that point, when Republicans nationwide began to see a positive tilt in the polls as voter enthusiasm surged among conservatives, Blackburn moved ahead of Bredesen in the polls. First, she was up five points in a Fox News poll, then she was up eight points in a CBS poll, followed by the 14-point lead in the New York Times poll. But political prognosticators suggested the GOP enthusiasm surge in response to the Kavanaugh hearings would level off by election day.
In the meantime, the Bredesen camp said in a memo to supporters that their internal polls had found that the former governor trailed Blackburn by just one point.
That was followed by the Vanderbilt poll, which publicly echoed what the Bredesen campaign was saying privately.
“The bottom line is that Tennessee’s Senate race will be determined by which candidate is better able to turn out their base, as well as any national waves that occur — blue or otherwise,” said John Greer, a Vanderbilt political science professor who helped conduct the poll.
While Tennessee has been a reliable red state in recent years, Bredesen — who governed as a centrist Democrat — is counting on cross-over voters to help elect him to the Senate. The Vanderbilt poll found that strategy might be working, despite efforts by groups loosely aligned with Blackburn to paint Bredesen as a liberal candidate. Thirteen percent of Republican voters polled by Vanderbilt said they intended to vote for Bredesen, compared to just five percent of Democratic voters who said they were going to vote for Blackburn.
Bredesen has campaigned on a moderate agenda, promising to support the policies of President Donald Trump when they place Tennessee’s best interests first. However, Republicans have seized on the fact that Bredesen was recruited into the race by Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Democratic leader of the Senate who is also viewed as one of the most liberal faces of the party.
Lee comfortably in front: The Vanderbilt poll found Republican Bill Lee ahead of Democrat Karl Dean by 11 points in the Tennessee gubernatorial race, with still more than one in 10 voters undecided.
Forty-eight of those polled said they would support Lee, compared to 37 percent for Dean. Twelve percent were undecided.
While women generally vote for Democrats more often than Republicans, a trend that holds true in the Tennessee Senate race, women support Lee about equally to Dean, while men prefer Lee by a wide margin, 56 percent to 31 percent.
Part of the reason for Lee's lead is his appeal to independent voters, who support him by a 46 percent to 35 percent margin.
Like the Senate race, the Vanderbilt poll is considerably closer than other public polls. The New York Times poll, for example, found Lee ahead by a whopping 26 points. A Fox News poll conducted two weeks earlier found Lee ahead by 17 points.
Lee is a political newcomer, while Dean is the former mayor of Nashville.
While Dean was always viewed as the presumptive nominee for Democrats, Lee's nomination was a monumental upset among traditional Republicans, as he out-polled heavy favorites Randy Boyd and Diane Black. Boyd is a former member of Bill Haslam's cabinent, while Black is a congresswoman who had the backing of some of the top Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly.
State Senator Ken Yager, R-Kingston, was one of the state legislators who was a vocal supporter of Black. However, he has since backed Lee with enthusiasm, saying that the Middle Tennessee businessman is well prepared to lead Tennessee forward.