There was a time not too long ago when Tennessee enjoyed an abundance of electoral attention. Presidential candidates and their surrogates cultivated support in the Volunteer State in hopes of swinging the bellwether state into their electoral column. The state selected the winner of the National popular vote every election between 1928 and 2008, save 1960 when Republican Richard M. Nixon defeated John F. Kennedy.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter by just 0.29% of the vote. In 1992 Bill Clinton selected the state’s Junior U.S. Senator Al Gore as his running mate. The ticket carried the Volunteer state in 1992 and again in 1996, with Gore making a formidable 16 campaign stops in his home state. The last year the state was contested was in 2000, when Republican George W. Bush defeated Gore in his home state by four percentage points.
The state has gradually become a Republican citadel, forcing the Democrats to concede the state years before the Presidential election cycle begins. It was one of only two states (Arkansas being the other) where Democrat Barack Obama performed worse in 2008 than John Kerry did in 2004.
This electoral irrelevance is very disadvantageous to Tennesseans. Presidential candidates spend their time on the hustings in only about 15 showdown states (aside from blue chip fundraisers in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles). They address the concerns of a very select group of voters simply because of their geopolitical location. Candidates are forced to address the trade embargo on Cuba because of the influence of Cuban-American votes in Florida. They must address the foreclosure crisis in Las Vegas because Nevada is a swing state. They must speak to the effects of globalization on the steel industry because of the industry’s electoral muscle in the electoral battlefields of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately for Tennessee, candidates see no advantage in addressing the decline of more than 150 thousand manufacturing jobs in Tennessee over the last decade, violent crime in Memphis, and the plight of the state’s tobacco farmers. When they get into office, Presidents are less familiar with these issues and see no electoral incentive to address them. As former Governor Jim Edgar (R-IL) asserts: “People who are in elected office remember what they learned when they were campaigning. Its important that the candidates campaign in all states, not just the swing states.”
Despite this rather gloomy picture, there is a way to make Tennessee voters actually matter. The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states would agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote, as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently 8 states and the District of Columbia, constituting 149 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.
Despite contemporary belief, the present winner-take-all system of awarding Presidential electors was not part of the grand design of the Founding Fathers. In fact, the Constitutional Convention was deadlocked as to the method of electing the President. They decided to delegate “plenary authority” to the states in awarding their electors, as reflected in Article ll, Section 1, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” Accordingly, each state has autonomy to select electors in any way that they see fit.
This issue has garnered support from across the political aisle. Political Lightening struck when the Chairmen of the states Republican and Democratic Parties, Bob Davis and Randy Button, joined forces in endorsing this effort. In addition, former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) is a co-champion for the National Popular vote movement. A recent poll showed that 83% of Tennessee voters agree that the person who wins the most votes should win the election.
The National Popular Vote Plan will bring Tennessee back from the electoral abyss. Presidential Candidates will once again have a reason to cultivate and solidify support in the Volunteer state. A vote in Cleveland, Tennessee will be just as coveted as a vote in Cleveland, Ohio. Every vote will be equal. Every vote will count. Every vote will be meaningful, and Tennessee will have a seat at the electoral table.