Republican Bill Lee will be Tennessee's 50th governor, while Republican Marsha Blackburn will represent the Volunteer State in the U.S. Senate.
Those were the outcomes of two closely-watched statewide races on Tuesday, while district races found incumbent Congressman Chuck Fleischmann and State Rep. Kelly Keisling, both Republicans, retaining their seats.
"You have sent a message that it is time to take Tennessee conservative values to Washington and keep our state and our country moving forward," Blackburn said after it became obvious that she would out-poll her Democratic opponent, former governor Phil Bredesen. "I am so incredibly grateful to each of you for doing your part, standing with me, staying strong and turning out the vote."
Lee, meanwhile, said he intends to unify the Volunteer State.
"I want to speak for just a second to those who may not have voted for me tonight: I want you to know from the bottom of my heart, I care about you, I care about your family, and I’m going to do my very best to make you proud that I’m your governor," the Franklin businessman said during his victory speech.
The Republican National Committee boasted the results in Tennessee, even though the GOP was licking its wounds elsewhere after losing its majority control in the House of Representatives to the Democrats, along with several key gubernatorial seats across the nation.
Lee completes triumph
There was never much doubt that Lee, a political newcomer who stunned the GOP establishment in August when he defeated heavy favorites Randy Boyd and Diane Black in the Republican primary, would win the race to succeed term-limited Bill Haslam. Lee had consistently led by a wide margin in public polling. With most votes counted as the clock neared 11 p.m. Tuesday night, Lee had 61 percent of the vote across the state, to 38 percent for his Democratic opponent, former Nashville mayor Karl Dean.
It appeared that Lee would win 92 of the state's 95 counties -- with the only exceptions being Davidson County, Shelby County and Haywood County. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his ties to Nashville, Dean nearly doubled Lee's vote in Davidson County, with 62 percent of the tally there. But Lee, a rancher and businessman who campaigned on a platform of fighting for rural Tennessee, overwhelmed Dean outside the state's urban areas. He captured at least 70 percent of the vote in most Tennessee counties, and at least three-fourths of the vote in many rural counties. Even in Knox and Hamilton counties, home to two of the state's four largest metropolitan areas, Lee's vote share topped 55 percent.
In Scott County, Lee captured a whopping 82 percent of the vote — 4,472 votes to Dean's 961. Similar to 2016, when Scott County voted for Republican Donald Trump for president by the largest percentage of any county in Tennessee, with 85 percent voting for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Lee captured a larger percentage of the votes in Scott County than in any of the state's other counties, though Johnson and Wayne County voters also supported Lee by an 82 percent margin.
Like Trump, Lee is an outsider who shook up the GOP establishment and campaigned on a populist agenda. But unlike Trump, who never shies away from a fight and is seemingly eager to pounce on his political opponents, Lee won the support of the state's conservative voters with a primary campaign that was unflinchingly positive. Amid a bitterly contested primary battle, Lee refused to engage in attack ads. As the campaign moved into the general election season, Lee and Dean remained largely cordial towards one another, in contrast to the Senate race, which saw millions of dollars poured into attack ads by either side.
With Lee's victory, Tennessee will have back-to-back Republican governors for the first time since Reconstruction. The last time it happened, Dewitt Clinton Senter succeeded William G. Brownlow in 1869. Since 1971, when Republican Winfield Dunn defeated Democrat John Jay Hooker to succeed Buford Ellington and break Democrats' 50-year reign in the governor's mansion, Tennessee's gubernatorial hold had alternated between Republicans and Democrats.
"Bill’s victory tonight shows that Tennesseans in every community believe in him and his vision for the future," Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden said of Lee's win. "I have no doubt that Bill is the right man to lead our state from good to great as Tennessee’s chief executive."
Blackburn holds on
Blackburn, the eight-term congresswoman from the rural 7th District west of Nashville, was once considered something of a long-shot in the race to replace Bob Corker, the Chattanooga Republican who is retiring from the Senate.
However, the race began to tilt in Blackburn's favor in the aftermath of the raucous confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who was seated on the U.S. Supreme Court by a razor-thin vote of the Senate following sexual assault allegations, and she never looked back.
Bredesen, a centrist Democrat who pledged to work with Trump rather than opposing him, was actually encouraged to run for Corker's seat by Corker himself, despite being from the opposite party. The former governor mounted an attempt to encourage crossover voters to elect him to the Senate and the strategy appeared to be working early. Bredesen led most public polls prior to the end of summer.
But Blackburn seized the lead in those polls in the aftermath of the Kavanaugh hearings, which angered conservatives and saw a surge in Republican enthusiasm as it related to the midterm election, and continued to widen the advantage as election day neared. While Bredesen announced on the eve of Kavanaugh's confirmation that he would have voted in support of the judge, he was subjected to withering attacks by the Blackburn camp, which sought to tie him to Chuck Schumer, the liberal New Yorker who is the face of Democrats in the Senate and who helped recruit Bredesen into the race.
Like Lee in the gubernatorial race, Blackburn won 92 of Tennessee's 95 counties -- the exceptions being Davidson, Shelby and Haywood counties. Bredesen captured a whopping 71 percent of the vote in his native Davidson County, and finished with well north of 60 percent of the vote in Shelby County. But Blackburn faired much better elsewhere, and narrowly edged Bredesen in Knox and Hamilton counties.
In Scott County, Blackburn finished with 77 percent of the vote, out-polling Bredesen by a total of 4,232-1,176. Scott Countians voted for Blackburn by the second largest margin of any Tennessee county, trailing only Wayne County's 80 percent.
Statewide, Blackburn had 55 percent of the vote to Bredesen's 44 percent with most precincts reporting late Tuesday night.
"Just as we said on day one, I will take our shared Tennessee values to work on issues of importance to you in Washington: more constitutional federal judges and Supreme Court Justices, lower taxes, less regulation, protecting the right to life, defending the Second Amendment, providing for our troops and veterans, getting the federal budget under control and building the wall once and for all on the southern border," Blackburn said.
Tennessee was seen as key to Democrats' hopes of capturing control of the Senate. As the Volunteer State tilted to the Republicans, it became apparent that the GOP would retain control of the upper chamber. As the clock ticked past midnight, it appeared Republicans would gain three seats in the Senate, widening their thin majority.
Blackburn's win, meanwhile, continued to signal that Tennessee was becoming more conservative in the aftermath of the 2018 midterm. Corker is a moderate Republican who often clashed with Trump. He refused to endorse Blackburn, and encouraged Bredesen to run for his seat as an independent. Blackburn, by contrast, is viewed as a staunch conservative who has been a steadfast supporter of the president and has taken hardline stances on key right-wing issues like abortion, guns, immigration and same-sex marriage.
The same is true of the gubernatorial race. Haslam is a moderate Republican, in the same vein as Howard H. Baker Jr. Lee, by contrast, is decidedly more conservative than Haslam, and was even declared an extremist by Dean.
Fleischmann wins easily
While it appeared as the clock struck midnight that Republicans would not retain their control of the U.S. House, they faired well in Tennessee, holding on to all seven of their seats out of the state's nine congressional districts.
One of those, in the 3rd District, was the seat occupied by Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, who easily won re-election.
Fleischmann easily out-polled his Democratic opponent, Danielle Mitchell, with 64 percent of the vote to Mitchell's 34 percent. He won in each of the district's 11 counties, which stretch from the state's border with Alabama to its border with Kentucky, with at least 55 percent of the vote. In 10 of the 11 counties, with Hamilton Conty being the exception, Fleischmann captured at least 60 percent of the vote.
Nowhere was Fleischmann's margin of victory wider than in Scott County, where he captured 83 percent of the vote — 4,217 to Mitchell's 795.
In the 2nd District, where Knoxville Republican Jimmy Duncan, who has strong Scott County ties, was retiring, former Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett won election over Democratic opponent Renee Hoyos with 66 percent of the vote.
The same results did not hold true nationwide, however. As Tuesday evening turned to Wednesday morning, it appeared Democrats would pick up at least 34 seats, several more than the 24 they needed to flip in order to wrest control of the lower chamber from Republicans.
Democrats' new control of Congress will likely mean a flurry of House-led investigations into the myriad scandals that have engulfed the Trump administration, ranging from alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election to the president's business dealings. Ambitious Democrats have pledged to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, though several leading members of the party have urged restraint.
Another term for Keisling
State Rep. Kelly Keisling, the Byrdstown Republican who unseated long-time State Rep. Les Winningham, D-Huntsville, in 2010, easily won a fifth term in the state's 38th District. Keisling, 81 percent of the votes to 19 percent for his opponent, Celina Democrat Carol Abney.
Scott Countians voted for Keisling by the largest margin of any of the five counties in the 38th District. Keisling received 85 percent of the vote here — 4,328 to 763 for Abney.