Presidential campaign in TN growing more competitive

Michael Collins has collected some comments on the status of the presidential campaign in Tennessee, oist-Iowa and pre-New Hampshire. Excerpts:

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are all competitive in the Volunteer State, and any one of them could emerge the GOP winner when Tennessee holds its presidential primary on March 1, according to political operatives and other experts from across the state.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton continues to dominate despite a robust challenge from Bernie Sanders.

“Hillary has got good roots here, and I don’t know that Tennessee is quite ready for Bernie,” said Marcus Pohlmann, a political scientist at Rhodes College in Memphis.

Not much polling has been done on the state of the presidential race in Tennessee.

The most recent, released Jan. 28 by Middle Tennessee State University, showed Trump leading the GOP field with 32 percent, but with 28 percent of Republicans still undecided. Cruz was favored by 16.5 percent, followed by Ben Carson with 6.6 percent and Rubio with 5.3 percent.

Forty-seven percent of Democratic voters preferred Clinton, while nearly 26 percent were undecided. Fifteen percent backed Sanders.

…”The Republicans in Tennessee do lean right of the midstream of the party,” Pohlmann said, so “if it comes down to a three-way race between Trump, Rubio and Cruz, which it could, then I would say there would be a slight advantage to Cruz.”

Rubio’s showing in Iowa could help him in Tennessee, but “I’m not convinced it helps him as much as people are saying it helps him,” said Anthony Nownes, a political scientist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “A lot of the narrative about how great he did comes from wishful thinking. A lot of Republicans privately — officeholders, Republican leaders, people that are called part of the Republican establishment — have been waiting for one person other than Trump or Cruz to assert themselves and show they have some staying power and be able to knock off one or both of those guys.”

Rubio is seen as that alternative as a result of Iowa, but he still came in third, and “I still think he has an uphill battle,” Nownes said.

While Clinton is regarded by many as the solid front-runner on the Democratic ticket, “we have Democrats all over the state that are enthusiastic about both candidates,” said Mary Mancini, chairwoman of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Sanders has risen in some polls after the Iowa caucuses, which he lost to Clinton by less than 1 percent.

“Tennesseans and certainly the Democratic establishment in Tennessee is waking up to find out this is a horse race, and it’s a lot closer than anyone ever thought it would be,” said Matt Kuhn of Memphis, the chairman of Sanders’ campaign in Tennessee.

This coming week, Sanders’ volunteers plan to open offices in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville and will conduct phone banks on the candidate’s behalf in anticipation of the start of early voting, Kuhn said.

Clinton is winning the money race in Tennessee. The former first lady and secretary of state has raised more money in the Volunteer State than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican.

Clinton raised $819,465 in Tennessee through the end of 2015, the most recent period for which fundraising reports are available. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was second with $763,085.

Note: See also The Tennessean, which focuses on the evangelical Christian vote and its importance in Tennessee’s Republican primary. Excerpt:

If this year’s voters look like the 2012 electorate, Tennessee’s Republican primary should draw among the highest number of white evangelical voters of any state, said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor for political forecasting website Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The 2012 exit polls showed nearly three out of every four voters fit that category, he said.

“This means that one would expect Tennessee to gravitate toward candidates less connected to the party establishment, candidates like Cruz and Trump,” Kondik said. “Granted, Trump doesn’t nearly fit the definition of an evangelical favorite — he’s not overtly religious in his messaging, unlike someone like Cruz — but Trump has shown strength across the ideological spectrum of the GOP so far.”