Oprah Watch 2018: A Live Blog of the Midterms in the South

Pour one out for the Voting Rights Act

By Robin Happel, Tennessee Correspondent

Ah, the American South! Famed for our sweet tea, better food (sorry not sorry) and centuries of brutal violence surrounding elections, this is sure to be a fun night. (Editor’s note: it will not. I am planning to get through it by eating as many hash browns as I can physically fit in my mouth.) Will the Democrats win an unlikely Senate majority by flipping Southern states? Will this seem almost possible until the early hours of the morning, as votes are agonizingly recounted? Will ballots in historically black cities be mysteriously misplaced? Will I be able to stay awake in my 8:30 tomorrow?

Depending on how you feel about voter suppression, read on for a fun and lively look at how our democracy is fundamentally broken and/or doin’ juuuust fine the way it’s always been.

But first, some of the basics behind several races to watch!

Texas: Betooo! (This is not an official the paper endorsement, it’s just fun to say.) Although the anti-Cruz is grabbing the most headlines in the Lone Star state, other exciting political outsiders include veteran MJ Hegar and Colin Allred. Even if O’Rourke doesn’t pull it off, the path to a House majority for Democrats may well include flipping some seats in Texas, so there’s a number of races to watch here.

Tennessee: Democrat “Phil It Up” Bredesen is a political moderate running for Senate on a platform of reaching across the aisle, increasing teacher pay, and ending the opioid epidemic. His opponent Marsha Blackburn is running on a platform of being chosen by God and/or Trump. (Trump won rural parts of Tennessee near where my family lives with roughly 80% of the vote.) So far, her campaign is like shooting fish in a barrel – mired in animal cruelty allegations, and springing a lot of leaks. In the end, though, it all comes down to turnout.

Florida: The sunny South! The only state 30 Rock couldn’t call in 2012! Possible future governor Andrew Gillum has made waves across the country for his bold debating style and also his opponents’ blatant racism. Will he make Rihanna proud? Will Amendment 9 pass to protect the manatees? Will Puerto Ricans finally have their say on Trump?

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North Carolina: the LeBron James of voter suppression in that it’s not necessarily the record holder, but always seems to get the most press. From the redistricting of Asheville to voting machines crashing in Durham to HB2 it’s always some kind of something over there. Tennessee’s next governor may potentially also pass a bathroom bill, so I can’t throw stones. Anyway, as with pretty much all our other states, be prepared for a room of voting machines to be locked for several hours and then mysteriously not match exit polls.

South Carolina: Lindsey Graham is and continues to be, in one of the gravest Southern curses I know, staying blessed. He won’t be up for reelection until 2020.

Georgia: finally we got to Oprah! Giving North Carolina a run for its money in the voter hazing department, Republican candidate Brian Kemp has been broadly condemned for mismanaging a race he’s running in. Will Stacey Abrams pull off an underdog win? Will Jimmy Carter pull a Grover Cleveland and run again in 2020? In the South right now anything’s possible.

8 pm update: So far, Amy McGrath is in the lead in Kentucky with almost three-quarters of precincts reporting, signaling a possible upset. Gillum is currently up in Florida. Polls in Tennessee have started to close, and there’s a lot on the line. Turnout in Memphis and other major cities may be decisive. Will women of “other different groups” force Blackburn to find other different jobs? Will college students show up in more than single digits, despite it being so difficult for us to vote? Will Marsha Blackburn drain the swamp, despite her numerous corruption scandals, sixteen years in Congress, and the fact that her name literally contains the word “marsh”? Stay tuned.

9 pm update: Thanks to an NAACP lawsuit, polls in parts of Georgia will now be open until 10 pm. Amy McGrath was narrowly defeated in Kentucky, and so far Gillum and Abrams are both trailing. Beto’s and Bredesen’s races will likely depend on urban centers like Austin and Shelby County, so it may be a long night of waiting, although CNN has already projected Bredesen to lose. In a statement to the paper, Marty Olsen, a Congressional House candidate from east Tennessee, said that for the first time in a long time there is a choice in east Tennessee. If he wins, he will be the first Democrat since the 19th century to represent our district. (Full disclosure: I helped paint his campaign office over winter break.)

10 pm update: Following a lackluster showing in Knoxville and outlying rural counties, Bredesen and Olsen have both lost. I never fully expected either to win, but I’m really proud of the campaigns I’ve volunteered for, and I hope Blackburn will find it in her heart to govern for all of Tennessee. Gillum and Abrams are still significantly trailing, but personally I see the passage of Amendment 4 in Florida as a significant step towards a vision of the South where everyone’s voice is heard. More than any single race, combatting systems that disproportionately disenfranchise non-violent offenders is a big step forwards. Amendment 9 was also passed with almost 70% of the vote, an enormous win for environmental groups and/or people who hate vaping.

11 pm update: After a close race, Ted Cruz defeats Beto O’Rourke, and in Florida – in a shocking move only most people could have anticipated – another down-to-the-wire race is decided by less than the margin of third-party voters. Also, since I didn’t think to mention this before, John Lewis continues to be a lion of the Senate, because no one is out of pocket enough to think they’re a better politician than John Lewis. North Carolina continues to be a purple state (perhaps tilting towards red in recent years) and Abrams is still behind.

Midnight update: Earlier in the evening I missed mentioning that Kim Davis lost, so here it is: Kim Davis lost. Colin Allred won in Texas, and currently MJ Hegar appears to be neck and neck with her opponent. Although it looks likely that Kemp’s election meddling has swung Georgia in his favor, his blatant voter suppression has turned national attention towards tactics that have been an open secret in the South for years, and I remain hopeful that this election will build momentum towards a world where voting is easy and encouraged for everyone. Beyond the polls and soundbites, I will always remember the conversations I had with people of all political stripes over so much of this past summer, and the common concerns we shared over access to healthcare and education, especially in rural regions. Given that many progressive challengers came much closer than I initially thought they would, perhaps in our lifetimes we can come closer to finally defeating dogwhistle politics, and realize that diversity only makes us stronger. After tonight, Nashville residents will finally have a civilian oversight board to hold their city accountable for police brutality. Even though he lost, Olsen was the first progressive House candidate some east Tennesseans had ever met. Strong environmental ballot measures won across the country. In the words of organizer DeRay Mckesson, “hope is not magic, hope is work.”

This article may be periodically updated; we are also available via email at paper.fordham@gmail.com.

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