Political pundits say closing Tenn. primaries would be a mistake

Dec 11, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  Two long-time, mid-state political operatives say Tennessee Republicans should leave the state’s primary system alone. 

Credit tn.gov

Tennessee is one of just over a dozen states that allow residents to vote in the primary of their choice. The Republican Party State Executive Committee recently called on state lawmakers to change that by restricting primary voting to party members.


Nashville based political consultant Tom Ingram says that would be a mistake. Ingram has worked for and consulted with many of Tennessee’s top Republicans, including Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Don Sundquist and Bill Haslam.


“Tennessee just had an election where more people participated than ever. I’d hate to see us do anything that would discourage that in the future.”


Middle Tennessee State Professor of Political Science Kent Syler agrees with Ingram’s assessment. Syler has moved in the state’s Democratic circles for three decades.


He points out that a closed primary might have meant fewer votes for Donald Trump in 2016, because a lot of Tennesseans crossed party lines to see him elected.


“Party registration could act to throttle some of that enthusiasm that voters feel for a candidate that comes on to the scene and really excites people and that could ultimately, as Donald Trump did, win a general election.”


Professor Syler says back when Democrats held the majority in the Tennessee Legislature, they too considered a closed primary, but never had the votes to get it approved.


Syler and Ingram both say that moving to a closed primary would inevitably further polarize an already deeply divided Tennessee electorate.