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Tennessee’s primary elections were held Thursday to determine party candidates for governor, congressional and state assembly seats.

A handful of ballot initiatives and district attorney races were also on the ballot in some counties, as well as Supreme Court retention for all judges.


Through 14 days of early voting, turnout was 23.8% lower than at that point in the August 2018 election, when the election was an open governor’s race with Republican and Democratic primaries. Compared to the same point in 2014, turnout was down 15.4%.

Here’s a look at some of the top competitions:

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Democrat Jason Martin, a Nashville physician who criticized Republican Governor Bill Lee’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, won his primary race to challenge Lee in the fall. Martin defeated Memphis Council member JB Smiley Jr. by a narrow margin, and Memphis Community Advocate Carnita Atwater finished third. Lee ran unopposed in the GOP primary as he sought a second term, the first time in nearly three decades that a governor had no primary opponent.

Tennessee has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2006.


Earlier this year, Tennessee’s GOP-dominated General Assembly split left-leaning Nashville into three congressional districts, aiming to flip a seat from Democrat to Republican. Longtime Democratic US House Representative Jim Cooper announced he would not run for re-election because he felt there was no way for him to win.

On Thursday, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, from Columbia, emerged as the GOP candidate out of nine candidates in the 5th District. Among those he defeated were former Nashville State House Speaker Beth Harwell and retired Tennessee National Guard brigadier. Franklin’s General Kurt Winstead.

State Sen. Heidi Campbell from Nashville was the only candidate to run in the Democratic primary.

Meanwhile, five of Tennessee’s nine congressmen ran unopposed in the primary: US House Reps. Diana Hershberger, Tim Burchett, Scott DesJarlis, John Rose and Mark Green.

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Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, and Republican Reps David Kustoff and Chuck Fleischman faced underfunded challengers in their primaries. In the 9th District, Cohen defeated M. Latroy Alexandria-Williams, with Charlotte Bergman winning a Republican victory against Leo Avgovot and Brown Dudley. Kustoff defeated three primary opponents in the Eighth District, Danny Ray Bridger Jr., Gary Dean Close and Bob Hendry, with Democrat Lynette Williams defeating Tim McDonald for her party’s nomination. In the third district, Fleischman won her race over Sandy Casey and will face Democrat Meg Gorman in the fall.

In the Sixth District Democratic Primary, Randall Cooper defeated Clay Faircloth to contest Rose. And in the fourth district, Wayne Steele defeated Arnold White in the Democratic primary to challenge Desjarls.

Republicans currently hold seven seats in Tennessee’s Congress, while Democrats hold two.

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In the Republican-majority legislature, all 99 state House seats in Tennessee are to be held this year. There are currently 15 open seats, most of which are held by Republicans. Twenty-one seats were contested in the Republican primary and nine in the Democratic primary.

Some sitting MPs lost their primary races.

Republican Representative Bob Ramsey of Maryville did not survive a right-wing challenge against Brian Ritchie, an insurance agent in Maryville.

Republican Rep. Terry Lynn Weaver, a Lancaster gospel singer and songwriter known for her serenades at the Statehouse, lost to Smithville funeral home owner and farmer Michael Hale.

The inauguration includes the seat of disgraced former House Speaker Glenn Cassada, who was ousted from the top spot in 2019 after a series of scandals. Former GOP Representative Robin Smith resigned earlier this year after facing federal charges alleging he ran a political consultation kickback scheme with Cassada and his former chief of staff, either of which Till date no allegation has been made.

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Justin Jones, a black activist best known for demonstrating at the Capitol, was elected Thursday for a House seat for the district of Nashville. Jones, 26, was once temporarily banned from the Capitol after he was arrested for throwing a cup of liquid at Casada. That restriction has since been lifted.

In the Senate, 17 of the 33 seats are on the ballot, with four contested GOP primaries and two contested Democratic races.

Supreme court

All five justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court were upheld. Jeff Bivins, Sarah Campbell, Holly Kirby, Sharon Lee and Roger Page were up for an eight-year retention election, meaning voters simply decided whether to let them keep their seats. Rejections are extremely rare.

other major races

Some of the major races were featured in Tennessee’s most populous county, Shelby.

County Mayor Lee Harris was challenged by Memphis City Council member Worth Morgan. Black Democrat Harris was seeking his second four-year term. Morgan, a white Republican, has served on the council since 2016.

Republican incumbent and longtime Shelby County District Attorney Amy Werich, who has held the position since 2011, faced Democratic civil rights attorney, law professor and former county commissioner Steve Mulroy.

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With the results of all county precincts reporting Friday, Mulroy defeated Werich in the race for district attorney, and Harris beat Morgan in the contest for mayor.

Mulroy and Weirich clashed in debate, and the issue of abortion lawsuits became an issue under the state’s pending “trigger law.” The law would essentially ban all abortions across the state and make it a crime to perform the procedure.

Mulroy said he would give “very low” priority to prosecuting abortionists. Werich has not explicitly said whether or not she will prosecute doctors who perform abortions, but is saying that doing so would violate Tennessee code that allows prosecutors to “make a broad and fictitious statement without an actual charge or case.” Will refuse to issue.