Southern Gerrymandering

Like the honey badger, Tennessee Republicans don’t give a shit. They don’t have to. Even though Tennessee is far from the most conservative state in the country (as I know from working at an tree-planting nonprofit during my sophomore year, it has a surprisingly large number of environmentalist groups; its two Republican senators, meanwhile, are hardly moderates, but they’re not unreasonably obstructionist far-right pricks like most of the Republican conference is), it’s ancestrally Republican dating back to the Civil War, and latent racial polarization as well as the state’s very public divorce from voting Democratic at the presidential level in 2000 means then-Sen. Barack Obama got pretty much wiped out here in 2008, especially in the blood-red eastern part of the state.

For that reason, I figure Republicans will feel very comfortable drawing a 1-8 that screws over Nashville and Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper. And I drew a map that I expect will look quite similar to the finished product of their partisan bastardry.

Tennessee Map
Here’s the map. I got really bored with the standard color scheme this time after sticking with it for my Virginia map. Just be advised some of the colors are used wildly out of order.

TN-01 (blue): Rep. Phil Roe (R) – 29.1% Obama, 70% McCain

In actuality, of course, this district is anything but blue. The incumbent here, Phil Roe, is known for being one of the most outspoken opponents of women’s reproductive rights in Congress. And this district, which doesn’t change a whole lot, is actually one of the most Republican in the country. Even major cities in eastern Tennessee are Republican. There’s not much more to say. Democrats will be able to compete here about the same time Johnson City becomes a beach resort. Safe Republican.

TN-02 (green): Rep. John Duncan, Jr. (R) – 35.4% Obama, 64.6% McCain

Duncan’s district is much more competitive than Roe’s. It’s also incredibly Republican, which just goes to show how ridiculously red Roe’s district is. Knoxville itself has a light-blue core, but its suburbs and exurbs are so insanely Republican that it has no shot at getting its choice of representative in Congress. Safe Republican.

TN-03 (purple): Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R) – 31.3% Obama, 68.7% McCain

In the map’s first really major change so far, this district becomes considerably more compact, no longer stretching all the way up to the Kentucky border for no discernible reason. It takes some parts of Duncan’s current district shed due to population growth in Knox County. Other than that, there isn’t much to add. Safe Republican.

TN-04 (red): Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R) – 41.8% Obama, 58.2% McCain

As a freshman, Wife-Smacking Scotty gets the honor of helping to crack faraway Nashville, with his district dramatically remolded to drop its arm eastward to the Appalachians and the Kentucky border and its arm westward to the southwestern exurbs of the state capital. For all of this, DesJarlais’s geographic base of Bledsoe, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Sequatchie, Van Buren, and Warren counties remains more or less intact, and he’s probably favored to win the nomination here even though he’s a horrible person. In the general election, well…I think Lincoln Davis, whom DesJarlais ousted in the Republican wave last year, may be the last Democrat to represent this area in Congress for at least a generation. A coalition between Nashville Democrats and Blue Dogs in the boonies might be able to give DesJarlais a challenge, but I just don’t see it happening unless his domestic abuse issues can be successfully exploited. Likely Republican with DesJarlais, Safe Republican if open.

TN-05 (sienna): Rep. Diane Black (R) – 41.6% Obama, 58.4% McCain

Black ends up in this renumbered district. Cooper may or may not live here as well, but this district shares considerable overlap with Black’s current district and I think it’s safe to consider her the incumbent. Under these lines, swingy northern Davidson County is cracked and dumped together with some hard-red territory in the Appalachians. Black could face a primary challenge from eastern Tennessee, but most of her base remains intact here, and I think she could bat it away and go on to romp in the general election. Safe Republican.

TN-06 (magenta): Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) – 41.9% Obama, 58.1% McCain

Isn’t it odd that Tennessee has no black members of Congress, but two white members with “Black” in their last names? Anyway. Blackburn gets a bit less Republican of a district because she takes in quite a bit of Nashville (her district is, at 74.6% white and 12.6% black, the least white and most black of the four districts carving up the city), but those voters are drowned in the sea of red that is rural and exurban central Tennessee. Some of her territorial gains here are currently represented by DesJarlais; I don’t think they would balk at switching over to the telegenic and archconservative Blackburn, who I expect may end up on Mitt Romney’s shortlist for vice president next year. Safe Republican.

TN-07 (gold): Rep. Jim Cooper (D) – 41.2% Obama, 58.8% McCain

I’m listing Cooper as the incumbent here even though I’m not sure which Nashville district he would be placed in under these lines, because this is the one that’s open. It’s also the most Republican of the lot by presidential numbers, ensuring Cooper really has nowhere to run. The only thing that may prevent Tennessee Republicans from drawing him into a corner this way is concern that he may challenge Sen. Bob Corker, the state’s junior senator, something he has not explicitly ruled out as an option. But I think they’ll take their chances. Even though Cooper is a Blue Dog with a record that is already to his current district’s right, I’m not sure Rep. Heath Shuler in neighboring North Carolina could weather a district as red as this one. Likely Republican with Cooper, Safe Republican if open.

TN-08 (teal): Rep. Stephen Fincher (R) – 36.2% Obama, 63.8% McCain

Fincher, like fellow Republicans Reps. Blake Farenthold of Texas, Joe Walsh of Illinois, and Ben Quayle of Arizona, is living proof that sometimes in order to get elected to Congress, all you have to do is show up. Unfortunately, the Republican trifecta in Nashville isn’t likely to make Fincher any more vulnerable to a challenge, and he gets a safe district under this map that sweeps up the tendril into the Memphis area currently included in Blackburn’s district under the existing lines. Safe Republican.

TN-09 (orange): Rep. Steve Cohen (D) – 76.2% Obama, 23.8% McCain [63.6% black majority]

This district remains a compact little thing wedged into the southwestern corner of the state, extending little outside heavily black Memphis’ urban center. Cohen has fended off numerous primary challenges from black Democrats annoyed at being represented by a white, Jewish congressman, thanks to the goodwill he has built up within the greater black community, and his chances shouldn’t be reduced any under this map. Eventually, he’ll retire and be succeeded by a black representative. This is the only district won by Obama on this map, and win it he did. Safe Democratic.

The partisan breakdown of this map is a 1-8 in favor of Team Red. Graphically, it would look like this:


Editor’s Note: This story originally published Sunday, October 30, 2011 at