TN congressional seats: From five swing districts to one (sorta) in 15 years

Excerpt from on a piece by Lenyard King of Gannett’s Washington bureau on the growing partisanship in Tennessee’s congressional districts – and nationally,, too, of course:

According to an analysis by Wasserman, Tennessee’s districts have grown decidedly more partisan over the past 15 years.

In 1998, five of Tennessee’s nine House members (Republicans Zach Wamp and Van Hilleary, and Democrats Bob Clement, Bart Gordon and John Tanner) held seats deemed competitive. By 2012, only Clement’s seat (now held by Cooper) remained a swing district.

The most partisan districts in the Volunteer State today are represented by Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis and GOP Rep. Phil Roe of Johnson City, the analysis shows.

It helps explain why almost all House members from Tennessee voted with their party 97 percent of the time last year. Only GOP Rep. John Duncan of Knoxville (89 percent) and Cooper (81 percent) had relatively bipartisan voting records, according to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly.

Cooper joined a handful of moderates from both parties last week on a plan to end the government shutdown by repealing a tax on medical devices created to help fund the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The plan has gone nowhere so far.

The number of swing districts nationwide has plunged from 164 (out of 435) in 1998 to 90 last year. That means the real threat for nearly 80 percent of House members is a primary challenge, which tends to shove incumbents further toward their liberal or conservative base and further away from the middle, where compromise is usually forged.