Sunday column: Some election predictions (or speculation)

Predicting election outcomes is easy in some cases and impossible in others, but always a topic for obsessive debate and discussion among political junkies. Having engaged in several such conversations lately, here is a stab at sizing up some Tennessee contests in Thursday’s balloting from an old guy who’s previously been right, oh, about half the time.

The easiest one, statewide, is Bill Haslam in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Of course he wins. And the governor ought to be embarrassed with anything less than 65 percent of the vote against a field of odd and unknown opponents. OK, there are the YouTube viral videos of Mark “Coonrippy” Brown showering with a pet raccoon and Brown is first on the ballot, practically guaranteeing the bewhiskered gentleman second place, if not helping his chances for a reality TV gig.

But most votes the governor does not receive can be counted as a straightforward GOP voter rejection of his policies or persona. For real chest-thumping rights, Haslam needs about 85 percent. Then he could declare himself beloved of the GOP statewide and thumb his nose at those detractors bashing him on Common Core, being a wishy-washy RINO in general or whatever. Our governor isn’t the chest-thumping, nose-thumbing type, but he might be tempted at 85 percent or so. Prediction is that he won’t have to deal with the temptation.

At the other extreme, impossible to predict, is the Democratic gubernatorial primary. The only guy in the crowd with recognizably reasonable credentials is John McKamey, a former Sullivan County mayor, and he is strongly supported by Democratic activists who keep track of such things. But the situation is reminiscent of the 2012 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate when party activists backed actress Park Overall. She lost to Mark Clayton, whose name was first on the ballot and who was subsequently disavowed as a Democrat by the embarrassed party people because of “extremist views.”

This year, the guy whose name is first on the ballot is Charlie Brown. Brown likely has favorable name ID, thanks to the cartoon character. It’s a toss-up, but to make a prediction, McKamey by a whisker.

In the U.S. Senate Republican primary, it’s pretty easy, too. Lamar Alexander wins. The question is by how much, and he will have bragging rights if it’s more than about 60 percent. There’s a chance that Alexander could come in with a mere plurality victory over his field of opponents, most notably the tea party-embraced Joe Carr and George Flinn, the spender of well over $1 million in personal funds. Prediction: Alexander in the low 50s.

The U.S. Senate primary presents a contrast between Terry Adams, an idealist Democrat with little money and loved by every party activist who listens to him, and Gordon Ball, a pragmatic Democrat with lots of money who is tolerated by every party activist who listens to him. The guess here is that pragmatism — and money — prevails.

The real head-scratcher, statewide, is the Supreme Court retention election. As Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey recognized early on, the stage was set for unseating, via hard-ball politics, the three justices appointed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. But the Supremes, while disavowing politics in the court system, have waged a very smart political campaign — they’re all for Second Amendment gun rights and the death penalty, you know — since Ramsey alerted them to what was coming.

The question here is, who was listening? The anti-Supremes’ effort seems, perhaps surprisingly, almost anemic, focused on shouting “they’re liberal Democrats!” Lawyers and friends were listening, forming a voting bloc to offset the traditional third of voters who vote “no” on judge retention in most such elections.

Was the GOP’s right wing listening to the anti-Supremes? Not sure, but the suspicion is that the Supremes will be retained, though it will be close. (Maybe close enough that there’s a split. Chief Justice Gary Wade may well lead Justices Sharon Lee and Connie Clark in collecting retention votes — just as he has led in collecting money.)

Two incumbent congressmen, Scott DesJarlais and Chuck Fleishmann, are at risk of being unseated. The guess: DesJarlais loses by five points or so; Fleishmann wins by a similar margin.

In legislative primaries, about six incumbents are probably underdogs, including Knoxville’s Sen. Stacey Campfield. In that one, I just tried flipping a coin: heads, Richard Briggs; tails, Campfield. It came up heads.

Other legislative incumbents in the coin-flipping category include Democratic Sen. Ophelia Ford and Republican Sen. Mae Beavers, along with Republican Reps. Matthew Hill, Micah Van Huss, Tony Shipley, Steve Hall, Mike Sparks and Vance Dennis

And it’s a safe prediction that there will be a couple of surprises.

Note: This is a slightly expanded version of a column written for Sunday’s News Sentinel. The edited version is HERE.