As early as last summer and fall, there was a lot of buzz on Capitol Hill about how federal budget politics might aid the statewide aspirations of Tennessee’s U.S. representative Diane Black, who was then chair of the House Budget Committee and a pretty big cheese in Washington. She managed to dump her chairmanship at the end of 2017, after helping blow up the federal budget by aiding her party’s enactment of its tax-cut bill. But nobody, certainly in Beltway circles, thought she’d wind up running a poor third in her state’s gubernatorial primary, as she did yesterday.
2018 is turning out to be a relatively bad year for House Republicans trying to run statewide, as Tara Golshen notes:
Black joins a growing list of House Republicans who have lost their primaries this year; Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita both failed to clinch the Republican nomination in Indiana’s Senate race, losing the race to entrepreneur outsider Mike Braun.
West Virginia Rep. Evan Jenkins came in second to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to face Sen. Joe Manchin this November. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) lost his primary in the race for Idaho’s governorship earlier this year as well….
Those who have succeeded have done so only narrowly, like Ohio’s Rep. Jim Renacci, who won the Republican nomination to run against Sen. Sherrod Brown this fall with lukewarm support.
The stench of Washington probably didn’t help Black much, despite an endorsement from Donald Trump’s chief ally in swamp-draining, Vice-President Mike Pence. (You have to wonder if Trump’s failure to endorse Black personally offset this consolation prize.) But her defeat can mostly be explained as one of those old-style murder-suicide scenarios. She and her extremely wealthy opponent, East Tennessee businessman Randy Boyd, went after each other with claw hammers, allowing a third candidate, the somewhat-less-wealthy outsider businessman Bill Lee, to gain strength with a positive message. It’s not that different from what happened in the Indiana GOP Senate primary earlier this year. And it leaves Black probably wishing she’d stayed put.
The other Tennessee congressman who happens to be a woman (they are the only two such House members who eschew the term “congresswoman”), Marsha Blackburn, was lucky not to draw major opposition to her Senate candidacy within the GOP. Perhaps not coincidentally, she also got the Trump endorsement that eluded Black. But then again, Blackburn faces a tough general-election opponent in former governor and Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen, who has actually led in the limited polling taken this year, despite Tennessee’s strongly Republican preferences of late.
Here’s the real irony, though: At the beginning of the cycle it looked like this could well be the Year of the Republican Woman in Tennessee. Instead, with Black losing and with men winning the GOP primaries to succeed both Black and Blackburn, it’s now entirely possible that 2018 will be a disaster for Republican women in Tennessee. It’s all up to Marsha Blackburn now, and so far the year is not looking hospitable for congressional incumbents angling for a promotions.