Poll: Tennessee voters divided over state of the nation

Voters casting midterm election ballots in Tennessee are divided over the state of the nation, according to a wide-ranging survey of the American electorate.

As voters cast ballots for governor, U.S. Senate and members of Congress in Tuesday’s elections, AP VoteCast found that slightly more than half of Tennessee voters said the country is on the right track, compared with a little less than half who said the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Here’s a snapshot of who voted and why in Tennessee, based on preliminary results from AP VoteCast, an innovative nationwide survey of about 139,000 voters and nonvoters — including 3,831 voters and 779 nonvoters in the state of Tennessee — conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

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RACE FOR GOVERNOR

Republican businessman and political newcomer Bill Lee has won the Tennessee governor’s race, defeating Democrat and former Nashville mayor Karl Dean. Lee will succeed Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who was barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

Lee’s election to a four-year term means Republicans are in a good position to retain their trifecta of power through the next round of congressional and state legislative redistricting after the 2020 census. Republicans already hold sizeable majorities in both legislative chambers in Tennessee.

Nick Crandall, a 28-year-old industrial machinery consultant who lives in Nashville, considers himself an independent who can vote either party. But this time he thought voting for nearly all Democrats would tamp down the divisiveness in the country. However, he did vote Lee, saying he liked the businessman’s background.

Lee touted his business success — running Lee Company, a $225 million mechanical contracting and home services firm with more than 1,200 employees — as proof he was fit to govern.

“I always tend to favor private sector experience,” Crandall said. “Bill Lee fit that bill for me today.”

Dean had campaigned on vows to take a bipartisan approach to politics.

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SENATE SHOWDOWN

Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen fought hard for the right to replace retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who had frequently clashed with President Donald Trump. Bredesen said he would be an independent voice in Washington, and Blackburn countered by tying him to national Democrats. Seeking to become the state’s first female senator, Blackburn closely aligned herself with the White House and drew Tennessee campaign visits by Trump and other prominent Republicans.

First elected to the U.S. House in 2002, Blackburn styles herself as a “hardcore, card-carrying Tennessee conservative” ready to fight for Trump’s agenda. Bredesen, who was Tennessee’s governor from 2003 to 2011 and Nashville’s mayor before that, vowed to work with Trump when his ideas make sense for Tennessee and oppose the president when they did not.

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TOP ISSUES

Voters considered several issues to be important to their vote in this midterm election, including immigration and health care by about a quarter each, the economy (2 in 10), and terrorism and gun policy both less than 1 in 10.

Melissa Nelms, a Knoxville stay-at-home mother of three, said health care was her main concern as she voted Democratic in the Senate race. “We’re a self-employed family that can’t afford health insurance,” Nelms said after voting at a school. “We’re educated people. There’s no reason our family shouldn’t have health care, but we can’t afford it.”

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STATE OF THE ECONOMY

Voters have a positive view of the nation’s current economic outlook — three-quarters said the nation’s economy is good, compared with 25 percent who said it’s not good.

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TRUMP FACTOR

For about a third of Tennessee voters, President Donald Trump was not a factor they considered while casting their vote. By comparison, nearly 7 in 10 Trump was a reason for their vote.

Robert and Laura DuBois, conservative Christians from Nashville, voted as avid Trump supporters. Robert Dubois was wearing a red hat with Trump’s signature campaign slogan on it — Make America Great Again— when he voted. Both said they cast ballots for the Republican Blackburn for Senate believing she would back Trump’s agenda. “If you are supporting Blackburn, then you are for Trump,” said Robert DuBois, 50.

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CONTROL OF CONGRESS

Tuesday’s elections will determine control of Congress in the final two years of Trump’s first term in office, and three-quarters of Tennessee voters said which party will hold control was very important as they considered their vote. Nearly 2 in 10 said it was somewhat important.