Republican Bill Lee elected Tennessee's 50th governor

Zach Vance • Nov 6, 2018 at 11:09 PM

Once a little-known business owner from Franklin, Republican nominee Bill Lee will now be Tennessee’s 50th governor, succeeding term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam. 

Lee, who had never before sought public office, won an overwhelming majority of the vote, 60.62 percent, to defeat Democrat Karl Dean, who previously served as the mayor of Nashville.

While he gained 1.264 million votes statewide to Dean’s 789,039, Lee also had a strong showing in Washington County where he gained 31,039 votes compared to Dean’s 13,559 votes. 

The Associated Press called the Tennessee governor’s race very early Tuesday night, not long after polls closed and early voting totals showed he was the obvious winner. 

“I offer congratulations to Karl Dean on a race well run,” Lee said in a statement released to the Press. “Running for governor is tough work, and it means a lot to put yourself out there to the voters - we need more involvement in the public discourse, not less, and I thank Karl for his commitment to our state.”

Lee, owner of a plumbing and electrical business called Lee Company, consistently ran an optimistic campaign during a 19-month campaign that spanned across the state multiple times. 

Lee distinguished himself during the Republican primary by not indulging in the partisan rancor that seemed to plague favorites Diane Black and Randy Boyd.

"I'm grateful for the voters of Tennessee, grateful that you placed your trust in us to lead this great state," Lee told hundreds of supporters during his acceptance speech. "We ran a positive campaign from the very beginning until the very last day because we wanted to give a picture of what this state could look like."

Once the party’s nominee, Lee began campaigning hard on improving economic development in the state, while highlighting his rural roots, his strong religious beliefs and executive leadership expertise. 

“I want to speak for just a second to those who may not have voted for me tonight: I want you to know from the bottom of my heart, I care about you, I care about your family, and I’m going to do my very best to make you proud that I’m your governor,” Lee said.

Speaking to his supporters in Nashville, Dean said he would support Lee as governor. 

"I wish Bill Lee all the success in the world, and I will support him as governor. We fought the good fight. Tennessee's best days are still to come,” Dean said in his videotaped concession speech. 

Since 1967, neither party has consecutively held the office of governor in Tennessee for more than two terms. With Haslam leaving and Lee taking his place, Republicans will break that trend. 

“With Governor-Elect Bill Lee, Tennessee is in good hands,” according to a statement from Gov. Bill Haslam, who serves as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. 

“Lee will build on the progress we’ve made over the past eight years and make Tennessee the best place to live, work and raise a family. Bill Lee showed great character during this gubernatorial race, and I know that he will serve our state with honor and integrity. The RGA is proud to congratulate Governor-Elect Bill Lee on his victory in Tennessee.”

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