DemDaily: Upset and Suppression in Tennessee

August 7, 2020

In Tennessee's US Senate Democratic primary yesterday, progressive activist Marquita Bradshaw, who spent less than $10,000, defeated establishment favorite James Mackler, who spent $1.5 million.

TN Democratic Nominee Marquita Bradshaw

Separately, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that would have allowed all eligible voters to vote via absentee ballots due to COVID.

Yesterday's primary was one of nineteen remaining state primaries for congressional, state executive offices and the legislature still on the calendar.

Tennessee's US Senate primary elections yesterday set up a contest between Democrat Marquita Bradshaw and Republican Bill Hagerty in November. The two are competing in the open seat vacated by retiring three-term GOP Senator Lamar Alexander.

With 58% reporting, the Democratic primary was called for Bradshaw, a Memphis environmentalist and human rights activist, and former labor organizer, who leads with 35.5% over former state Assistant Attorney General Robin Kimbrough @26.6% and James Mackler @23.8%.

GOP nominee Bill Hagerty

The final vote count will be not be known for at least a week due to the record number of absentee ballots cast during the COVID pandemic.

Going into the primary, Mackler, an Army veteran and attorney who had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), raised $2.1 million and spent $1.5 million compared to Bradshaw who, according to FEC reports, raised under $9,000.

In the bitter Republican primary, former Trump-nominated US Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty secured the nomination over Vanderbilt University surgeon Manny Sethi. As of Friday afternoon, Hagerty led Sethi by more than 11%.

In the latest voter suppression development, the conservative majority on the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that would have allowed all eligible voters to vote via absentee ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Court ruled fear of contracting the coronavirus will not be an excuse to vote absentee in November.

TN Dem Party Chair Mary Mancini (TimesFreePress)

Under the ruling, only those with underlying medical conditions who have determined it's "impossible or unreasonable" to vote in-person due to COVID-19, are eligible to vote via absentee ballot in the fall election. Tennessee is one of several states that normally require an excuse to cast an absentee ballot.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sharon Lee wrote, "In the midst of this pandemic and while Tennessee remains under a state of emergency, qualified Tennessee voters with no underlying medical or health conditions should not be left with the impossible choice of voting in person and risking getting COVID-19 or forfeiting their constitutionally protected right to vote. Tennessee voters deserve better."

On the decision, Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said, "The Republican Party's unyielding campaign of voter suppression has always sowed confusion and placed obstacles in the path of voters. But now, during this dangerous health crisis, there are deadly consequences for the people they have sworn to serve."

For our followers, the remaining state primaries and early vote information. Make your ballot count!

State Primaries and Early Vote Information
Date State Election Early Vote Begins (Days before the Election)
August 8 Hawaii State Primary Al Mail-In Voting, Ballots received 18 days prior to election
August 9 Puerto Rico Territory Primary Mail-In Voting
August 11 Connecticut State Primary and
*Presidential Primary
No Early Vote
August 11 Georgia State Runoff Fourth Monday before election
August 11 Minnesota State Primary 46 Days
August 11 South Dakota State Runoff 46 Days
August 11 Vermont State Primary 45 Days
August 11 Wisconsin State Primary 14+ Days, Varies by County
August 18 Alaska State Primary 15 Days
August 18 Florida State Primary 10+ Days
August 18 Wyoming State Primary 46 Days
August 25 Oklahoma State Runoff 5 Days
September 1 Massachusetts State Primary 11 Days
September 8 New Hampshire State Primary No Early Vote
September 8 Rhode Island State Primary No Early Vote
September 15 Delaware State Primary No Early Vote
November 3 Lousiana State Primary 14 Days
December 4 Louisiana State Runoff 14 Days

*Information from multiple sources, with some variance. Please let us know of updates or corrections.

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Sources: New York Times, The Tennessean, CNN, Center for Responsive Politics, National Council of State Legislators,, VoteSmart, GreenPapers, State Secretary of States

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