Senate District 18 Special Election Gives Democrats an Unusual Opportunity

Tuesday’s special election in Robertson and Sumner counties appears to provide at least a long-shot chance for Democrats to gain a state Senate seat in a heavily Republican area.
In early voting, which ended last week, only 3,854 votes were cast, according to the state Division of Elections, a very low turnout. In Robertson County, home of Republican nominee Kerry Roberts, the early vote was 1,541; in Sumner, home of Democratic nominee Ken Wilber, who is mayor of Portland, the early vote was 2,313.
The election is to replace former state Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Diane Black, who was elected to the 6th Congressional District seat in November. Roberts was one of her unsuccessful opponents in the GOP primary. The seat has been held on an interim basis by Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin.
The scenario causing concern for Republicans, including Roberts was outlined in a Mike Towie column written earlier in the campaign. An excerpt:
Roberts, who lives in Springfield, is feeling a mix of confidence and apprehension. The confidence comes from being a Republican now officially endorsed by Black and running in a district that has voted strongly GOP in recent years. The anxiety? That emanates from the realization there could be enough voters believing either that he has already won or is at least a cinch to win, and therefore they won’t feel compelled to vote.
“One thing I learned from the Congressional race (6th District GOP primary) I ran in last year was that a false sense of security can come from forums and county party meetings,” Roberts said. “You can be well received, but you are touching only a small percentage of voters.”
There’s a more to the equation. Enter the Debra Maggart House Bill 130 factor, especially as it relates to Sumner County. Maggart’s anti-collective bargaining bill is the hottest hot-button issue in Sumner right now. It is effectively pitting thousands of Sumner teachers against the Board of Education and likely any other voter-elected governmental body – or state legislature candidate? – that they perceive as standing in their way.
Look at it this way: if Sumner’s GOP-leaning voters turn apathetic between now and March 8, the resultant light voter turnout combined with a huge, angry bloc of voting teachers could mean good news for whichever candidate’s party is seen as the more union-friendly of the two. These days that clearly is the Democratic Party.
Roberts has Diane Black on his side, but Wilber could conceivably counteract with hordes of conscientious civic-minded educators poised in the starting blocks, ready to sprint to the voting booths and check the box beside the mayor’s name.

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