With Several Multimillionaires Running, Governor's Race Could Be Tennessee's Most Expensive Ever

Jul 20, 2017
Originally published on September 19, 2017 2:09 pm

A political scientist at Middle Tennessee State University is predicting next year's race for governor could go down in the books as the state's most expensive race ever.

Kent Syler, an instructor at MTSU and former campaign manager to U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, says the battle to succeed Gov. Bill Haslam should easily eclipse the $20 million he spent to win the office in 2010 and is likely to surpass the state record $34 million that went into the 2006 Senate campaigns of Bob Corker and Harold Ford, Jr.

The Tennessean reports that the candidates for governor have so far raised $8.4 million, and they've already spent $1.2 million. That's even though the primaries are still more than a year away and the field is still being set.

Syler estimates $35 million to $40 million could go into the 2018 campaign. A major reason is the three multimillionaires who have already entered the race: Republican businessmen Randy Boyd and Bill Lee and Nashville's Democratic former mayor, Karl Dean.

"And if Representative Diane Black, who is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, decides to enter the race, that could take it to a whole new level," Syler says.

To reach Syler's prediction, the general election would also need to be competitive. Recent history suggests that it is likely to be.

The party of a new president typically suffers a setback in the election held two years after he takes office. That means Democrats should get a boost in 2018.

The trend seems to apply to the governor's race, Syler notes. The last time a Tennessean took the governor's office when his party held the White House was 1970. That year, Republican Winfield Dunn won an upset victory.

"I think chances are pretty good that we're going to have, at least on paper, a pretty competitive general election," Syler says.

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