September 28, 2018 11:00am

Nashville Power Poll Members Love Karl Dean. But Governor Is Not Likely In His Future.

Nashville Power Poll members overwhelmingly say they are planning to vote for their former mayor, Karl Dean, for governor. At the same time, they are overwhelmingly predicting Dean's opponent, Bill Lee, will handily win

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Nashville, TN Correspondent
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Nashville Power Poll members overwhelmingly say they are planning to vote for their former mayor, Karl Dean, for governor. At the same time, they are overwhelmingly predicting Dean's opponent, Bill Lee, will handily win. These are the results of the latest Power Poll, underwritten by our lead sponsor BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

In this particular survey, Power Poll expanded to include newly launched Power Polls in Chattanooga, Memphis, and Knoxville.

City by city, the results in this Power Poll gubernatorial race survey break out as follows:

When asked whether Power Poll members planned to vote for Dean, Lee, or were undecided, results were as follows:

  • Nashville: Dean (72%), Lee (21%), undecided (7%).
  • Memphis: Dean (70%), Lee (27%), undecided (3%).
  • Chattanooga: Dean (34%), Lee (56%), undecided (10%).
  • Knoxville: Dean (52%), Lee (40%), undecided (8%).

When asked for their predictions as to who would win the race, results were as follows:

  • Nashville: Dean (28%), Lee (72%).
  • Memphis: Dean (35%), Lee (65%).
  • Chattanooga: Dean (12%), Lee (88%).
  • Knoxville: Dean (17%), Lee (83%).

When the responses from the four cities were combined, the responses were as follows: 65% say they plan to vote for Dean, 28% are for Lee, and 7% are undecided; meanwhile, 74% believe Lee will win and 26% say Dean will win.

About This Power Poll

The Power Poll is an interactive survey targeted to powerful, influential people who are capable of steering a city's, or state's, discussion one way or another. It is not scientific. But it is an insightful barometer into what community leaders think about current issues and events.

In Nashville as well as the other Tennessee cities, Power Poll members are drawn from a variety of fields, including government, business, media, entertainment, non-profit organizations, and more. A complete member list, broken out by city, can be viewed at

Statewide, the response rate for this survey was 34% out of 1,656 individuals polled. Responses were by email and were anonymous.


Back in the early phases of the gubernatorial race, very few handicappers were giving Bill Lee a 1-in-25 chance of winning his primary. Headlining the GOP primary contest were Diane Black and Randy Boyd—the former a powerful, multimillionaire congresswoman and committee chair who had tied her fortunes to the Trump administration, and the latter a multimillionaire, handsome, more moderate businessman who had earned his bonafides leading economic development in the Haslam administration. Left to their own devices, along with some seriously bad advice from their political consultants, the two embarked on a remarkably bitter, negative, televised slugfest. The numbers of each plummeted, pulled ever downward in a whirlpool of dark ads.

Meanwhile, in the brutal heat of summer, driving down two-lane roads from one remote Tennessee town to another, apparently immune to the heavyweight bout being waged by the others, Williamson County businessman Bill Lee went about shaking hands and stage-managing a lovefest. I Love You, he would say. I Love My Wife. I Love My Kids. I Love Jesus. And I'm not going negative. Going negative says more about the person going negative than the person being attacked.

It was like Gandhi had landed in a Tennessee pasture and was a Republican.

A month out from the August primary election, the realization began to dawn on the professional political classes that the gig was up. The genial air-conditioning repairman and cattle farmer from Williamson County, a man with no previous experience in government, who seemed amazingly shallow on policy prescriptions or ideas or proposals but was instead just happy loving everyone, was going to blow away Black and Boyd. And that indeed came to pass.

In all fairness, if his policy proposals were light, his overriding message was a desire to bring the same kind of prosperity that both his business, and much of Tennessee, have experienced to the parts of the state that are languishing. Two things were abundantly in his favor: First, he was more dialed into the Tennessee good-ole-boy psychographic than anyone since Ned McWherter. He fit Tennessee to a T. And secondly, by staying positive, he reaped the benefits of a state grown sick and tired of the venom and vitriol out of Washington.

What Was Karl to Do

Put yourself in Dean's shoes. How do you attack a man who loves Jesus?

Dean would have much preferred to run against Black, who had a mean streak, kind of like Trump. Behind in the polls, Dean advisors were left to figure out a way to go after Lee, which proved difficult. Attacking Lee with the kind of smoking hot political attack ads that consultants ordinarily manufacture would carry great risk. Instead, Dean and his backers have tried to do their best in promoting the candidate's days as mayor. And they're playing the "compare and contrast" game best they can.

The basic Dean stump speech focuses on education, health care, and jobs. While mayor, Dean pushed a pro-charter school agenda that resulted in a wave of new schools, many of them quite good if you believe the test scores. On the jobs and economy front, he oversaw both the flood recovery that hit Nashville hard and the rocket-fueled economic boom that followed. And on the healthcare front, Dean favors Medicaid expansion, which Republican state lawmakers have refused to consider.

As to compare and contrast with Lee? Dean's TV ads now point to Lee's opposition to Medicaid expansion, which significant numbers of Tennesseans support. Dean has stressed his opposition to vouchers, which Lee apparently supports. Dean has pointed to his government experience, whereas Lee has none. And Dean points to his "common-sense" versus "extremist" approach to governing by, for instance, pointing out that Lee favors allowing teachers to carry guns, whereas Dean opposes that.

Reports from the campaign field are that few people find Dean to be the life of the party. "Drab" would be too severe a word. "Pragmatic" and "just-the-facts" might fit better. Similar descriptions never hurt the political career of Phil Bredesen, who is not an outrageous backslapper. If one is looking for reasons why Dean might pull off an upset, consider that amidst prognostications of a Blue Wave, and with Phil Bredesen sharing the statewide ticket, this would be the year.


Dean is in many ways running against a politician out of central casting and whose love affair with the electorate will be difficult to overcome. Bill Lee's cattle-farming, air-conditioning-fixing, family-loving, Jesus-worshipping, cowboy-boot-wearing, country-handsome bonafides are just so strong that this race, as Power Poll members seem to think, is lopsidedly in Lee's favor. Bill Lee has still not gone negative and is still loving everyone. As Power Poll members clearly indicate, that is probably enough to make him Tennessee's next governor.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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