We can hear those incessant, underhanded television ads now.
If history is any indication, the real fight to succeed six-term U.S. Rep. Phil Roe Phil Roe in Washington will be settled in the Republican primary in August. The 1st Congressional District hasn’t elected a Democrat since Robert Love Taylor held the seat from 1879-81.
You can count on a fun ride between now and August, as the list of would-be successors was building well before Roe made his announcement on Friday. Some will dip their toes in the water only to find it too deep to cross. Others will jump in head first and swim to the end.
One could be optimistic that the district primary won’t descend into the madness Tennessee voters endured in the Republican contest for governor in 2018, when leading candidates trampled one another with as much fury as “Games of Thrones.” Don’t hold your breath.
This is the 21st century in Northeast Tennessee, where one must run hard right lest he or she be labeled a RINO — a Republican in name only. That’s true in many places around the country, but the 1st District might just be the epicenter. The Trump loyalist test will be front and center.
You can bet that many Democratic and Independent voters will invade the Republican primary, since Tennessee has an open primary system that does not require party affiliation to vote. Roe was the beneficiary of that crossover when unseated single-term holder David Davis in 2008. Ironically, Roe proved to be as much as — if not more than — a party loyalist as Davis.
Could the crossover vote have an impact in 2020? Perhaps, but the landscape has changed tremendously in 12 years, as national partisanship is at its highest since the Civil Rights Era. If true moderates exist, they won’t risk the label. The base will be out in full force, given the divisiveness in Washington.
Along with staying true to party such platforms as health care and immigration, Roe zeroed in on making a difference for veterans. He made progress with what seemed to be bipartisan support in many cases, even as homelessness and suicide continues among veterans. Roe’s experience in these issues should make him a valuable advocate after he leaves office.
Regardless of whom the 1st District chooses to succeed him, we hope that person will focus directly on the needs of Northeast Tennessee, particularly in health care, workforce development and infrastructure. Our next representative should stay true to the values of the electorate, which should mean trying to build bipartisan support for progress in this district.