Tennessee Redistricting: Rocky No More for Republicans

by Jessica Taylor January 6, 2012 · 5:19 PM EST

Tennessee Republicans unveiled a congressional map on Friday that shores up the three-seat gain they made in 2010. Likely solidifying their grip on the Volunteer State for years to come, Republicans have now created seven districts that voted over 60 percent for John McCain in 2008.

In fact, the biggest threat to a Republican incumbent in the new map doesn’t come from a Democrat but from a member of his own party. With freshman Scott DesJarlais now in a dramatically retooled 4th District, he could be highly vulnerable in a GOP primary.

A surprise winner against Democrat Lincoln Davis last cycle, DesJarlais will find that more than 60 percent of his constituents are new. Gone is the northernmost arm of his expansive district, which snaked through the middle of the state, bordering both Kentucky and Alabama. He loses several counties to both the 3rd and 6th District – but notably adds Rutherford County and Murfreesboro, making it even likelier that that Senate GOP Caucus Chair Bill Ketron could mount a primary bid.

State Sen. Jim Tracy, who ran in the open 6th District primary but lost to now-Rep. Diane Black in 2010, could also run. But the re-drawn district takes on more of the Chattanooga media market by reaching into Rhea and Bradley counties, which could help the congressman, a Marion County resident. While it’s still a long shot, Democrats see the 4th as their best pick-up opportunity, and are happy with their recruit there, state Sen. Eric Stewart.

Freshman Republican Stephen Fincher gets the biggest lift from in the new map, with his district becoming more Republican by about eight points. His rural western 8th District goes from a district that voted 56 percent for John McCain in 2008 to one that the Arizonan would have won by over 64 percent. State Sen. Roy Herron, who lost to Fincher by twenty points in 2010, is still mulling a rematch, but faces an even more uphill climb now in the significantly tougher district.

Republican Diane Black, the state’s third freshman, also saw her district improve slightly, but with Rutherford County removed, the best news for her is that any threat of a primary challenge dramatically decreases. The new district voted over 65 percent for McCain.

Shoring up the GOP delegation’s new members, particularly Fincher, came at the expense of Rep. Marsha Blackburn, though. While her Clarksville district is still reliably Republican – having voted 62 percent for McCain – it does drop about six points for Republicans, but takes on a much more contiguous shape, picking up Stewart, Houston, Humphreys and Benton counties from Fincher.

Early on in the redistricting process, Republicans had mulled trying to endanger Nashville Rep. Jim Cooper, the only remaining Democrat they could target, with Rep. Steve Cohen’s majority-minority 9th District protected under the Voting Rights Act. But Cooper actually got the request he made before the redistricting committee – restoring all of Davidson County to his district. He now has more of Cheatham County and all of Dickson County, and his district actually gets slightly more Democratic, with McCain winning only 41 percent here.

With the support of GOP leadership in both chambers, the Congressional and legislative maps are expected to pass easily when the Legislature comes into session next week, and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to sign them.