In 2018, Tennessee’s 18th State House District went for Republican incumbent Rep. Martin Daniel by just 747 votes. This year, Republicans are on the defense as the open state house seat has become an obvious target for Democrats to cut into the GOP supermajority that is in the state’s lower chamber.
The 18th District is centered in suburban West Knoxville, an area demographically and politically similar to those across the country shifting leftward in the past decade. With the national environment and suburban ideological shifts favoring Democrats, this seat is looking to have one of the closest elections in the entire state.
Democrats know the seat is one worth targeting, especially having scared the incumbent into retirement. Daniel announced his retirement just days after Virginia Couch announced her candidacy for the seat.
Couch, the Democratic nominee for House District 18, is a local attorney, small business owner and adjunct law professor here at the University of Tennessee. Couch’s campaign is centered around providing economic opportunity to small businesses, expanding Medicaid and keeping tax dollars in public schools, among other Democratic ideals. Her experience as an attorney and a small business owner are what makes her well-suited for representing the best interests of the growing area of town, according to the campaign.
“As a lawyer and a small business owner I have learned two important skills missing in many legislators: how to listen and how to work as part of a team,” Couch said. “I’m excited for the chance to bring my experience to the Capitol.”
Couch has pulled in attention and money from across the state, and Democrats are clearly ready to fight hard in order to flip the seat.
The Republican primary for their nomination turned nasty quick. The Knox County Republican Party even ended up taking sides to prevent the more moderate, failed mayoral candidate Eddie Mannis from securing the GOP nomination. Party chair Randy Pace propped up Gina Oster, a former PTA president and realtor, who ran far to the right of Mannis.
Mannis ended up prevailing by just 99 votes, but that did not stop Pace and Oster from their efforts to keep Mannis off of the ballot. Last Wednesday, after weeks of lobbying and pleas from the more Trump-friendly wing of the party, the Tennessee Republican Party committee voted to keep Mannis as the nominee at 43-18.
Mannis, a 2019 candidate for Knoxville mayor, businessman and nonprofit founder, is set to face Couch on Nov. 3 later this year.
“I appreciate the confidence shown by the Tennessee Republican Party by reconfirming our victory,” Mannis said following the state GOP’s decision to not overturn the primary results. “I look forward to running a winning campaign.”
Whether or not the county GOP is going to support Mannis is unclear and the division remains ripe among active Republicans in the district.
From Papermill to Pellissippi and from Amherst to Rocky Hill, the district is expected to be the most expensive and potentially the closest in the state. Democrats set the tone this fall by flipping a county commission seat and by setting record turnout numbers in the Aug. 6 election, putting Republicans on the defense in Knox County and especially in its suburbs.
Jack Vaughan is a sophomore studying communication studies and political science. He currently works as a field organizer with the Knox County Democratic Party, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @theJackVaughan on Twitter.
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