Tennessee primary analysis

1. If you look at the state totals, you’d think that John Edwards would be happier with the Tennessee result (losing to Kerry by 15 points) than the Virginia result (losing to Kerry by 25), and perhaps he is. I’m not sure I would be.

The big positive for Edwards is that he ran strong across the state, losing badly only in African-American areas (in itself, though, a big negative). He ran especially strong in the rural areas east of Nashville and in the mountain counties next to his home state of North Carolina, winning four counties in all.

The big negative for Edwards is that, like in Virginia, John Kerry beat him badly with the Democratic base. Of the 53,690-vote margin between the two, 18,873 of those votes came from Shelby County (i.e., Memphis) alone, where Edwards won just 14% of the vote. Edwards is doing well at attracting conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans, but his inability to get core Democrats to vote for him over Kerry is becoming a fatal problem for his nomination bid.

Edwards had a good race in Tennessee, and pushed Kerry hard in most of the state, but, unlike in Virginia, he didn’t demonstrate that he has a base of voters (however small) he can deliver. His inability to win a single county in east Tennessee should concern him.

2. As in Virginia, Kerry had widespread support, and won almost every county, doing especially well in African-American and old Union areas. How deep that support is remains to be seen, and I hope that Howard Dean and Edwards remain in the race long enough for future voters to be able to decide whether they still like Kerry after the inevitable stumble.

3. Wesley Clark did not win a single county in the state, despite pulling 23% of the vote statewide. His best county-level performance was in Montgomery County, whose county seat is…Clarksville. Somehow, that says it all.

4. If there were any doubt left, Dean’s drubbing in Tennessee demonstrated that Al Gore has no pull left in what he calls his home state.

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