Tennessee Star Poll results released on Tuesday show that Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06) leads Democratic front runner Karl Dean by 11 points in a head-to-head matchup in Tennessee’s general election for governor, 46 percent to 35 percent.
Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) leads Dean by 10 points, 42 percent to 32 percent, and Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd leads Dean by 9 points, 43 percent to 34 percent.
The two other potential Republican gubernatorial challengers fare less well.
Williamson County businessman Bill Lee leads Dean by 4 points 38 percent to 34 percent, and former State Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) is essentially tied with Dean, leading by two-tenths of one percent, 35.9 percent to 35.7 percent
The automated (IVR) telephone survey of 1,003 likely Tennessee voters in the November 2018 general election was conducted for The Tennessee Star by Triton Research between January 21 and January 24 and has a 3.1 percent margin of error.
“Because the poll included fewer African American respondents than the likely distribution in November 2018, I think it is safe to add about five percentage points to the results for Dean in each head to head matchup,” conservative political analyst and media consultant Steve Gill tells The Star.
“But because almost all of the Republican candidates are suffering from pretty low name identification in areas of the state that traditionally provide strong support for Republican candidates there is no reason to sound alarm bells over the relatively narrow lead that the Republican candidates have over Dean when you account for African American votes. The numbers should, however, put the Republicans on notice that they need to aggressively improve their name recognition in areas outside their own regional base of support,” Gill notes.
“For Black, Harwell and Lee that means stepping it up pretty dramatically in East Tennessee, specifically the First, Second and Third congressional districts. Likewise, Boyd needs to increase his visibility in Middle Tennessee, both to get in the fight for those GOP primary votes as well as to lay the groundwork for contesting Dean on his own turf if they are their party nominees. Boyd can’t wait until August to start establishing support in Nashville and the surround counties if he wants to win in November. And if the Middle Tennessee candidates don’t get better known in East and West Tennessee they will find it hard to win the nomination, much less the general election,” Gill adds.
January’s poll results suggest some movement in the Republican primary since the December 2017 Tennessee Star Poll, with Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell now potentially joining Black and Boyd in the top tier of candidates.
In the December 2017 Tennessee Star Poll of likely Republican primary voters, The Star reported:
Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06) has opened up a ten point lead over Randy Boyd, her closest rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Tennessee, according to a new poll released by The Tennessee Star.
Black received the support of 21 percent of likely Tennessee Republican primary voters to lead the field of five contenders, followed by Boyd in second place with 11 percent. Rounding out the bottom tier of candidates are Speaker of the Tennessee House Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) with 6 percent, Bill Lee with 4 percent, and former State Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) with 3 percent.
The good news for Black’s four rivals for the GOP nomination is that 52 percent of likely voters in the August 2018 Tennessee Republican gubernatorial primary are still undecided.
“The big surprise in this poll is Harwell. Many people and pundits had written her off, but for her to be holding her own with Black and Boyd indicates a reservoir of strength that maybe many people have overlooked,” a veteran Tennessee Republican political operative tells The Tennessee Star.
“She still has the problem in terms of finances, as compared to Black and Boyd, but if she continues to show up as strong in these polls, money will find a way to her,” the operative adds.
Steve Gill notes that the separation of the gubernatorial candidates into an upper tier that includes Black, Boyd, and Harwell, and a lower tier that includes the other two candidates means that “Lee and Beavers have the most to be concerned about with these results.”
“When the African American vote, which is likely to be a key focus of get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts by the Democrats, is factored into the numbers both Beavers and Lee would trail Dean at this point. The upcoming fundraising reports from the two will clarify whether or not they can compete effectively over the next few months and demonstrate that they can be viable against Dean in November,” Gill notes.
“There is time for the four major GOP candidates to do what they need to do, and all have the financial resources available to contend strongly for the nomination and put themselves in position to win in November, but with a Senate primary, 3-4 open U.S. House seats and another in the 8th that will be hard fought, along with a slew of state house and senate campaigns all competing for airtime and voter attention, the sooner they start establishing themselves the more likely it is they will be heard,” he says.
“Money WILL start to have an impact on separating the pack in the next four weeks — with Boyd and Black having the most funds available to start edging away from the others. Once we start seeing separation begin, some of the other candidates will start to see slippage of their own support to the emerging frontrunners,” Gill concludes.
On Monday, The Star reported that Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07) leads former Gov. Phil Bredesen in a head-to-head matchup in November’s general election by 11 points, 50 percent to 39 percent.
Stay tuned throughout the week for additional reporting on the results of the January 2018 Tennessee Star Poll on several of the key issues in the 2018 election.
You can see the results of the questions about gubernatorial matchups asked in the January 2018 Tennessee Star Poll here: