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GOP Goes Negative in Special Election

Tennessee State Capitol

With less than a week to go before election day, Republican candidate Shane Reeves and GOP leadership ramp up negative campaign attacks against Democratic candidate Gayle Jordan.

From the start of his campaign, Mr. Reeves made his Christian beliefs known. His core value of Faith often appears in his public remarks. At the League of Women Voters forum, he said, “My worldview comes from my Christian faith. It serves as a moral compass and a filter on how I look at so many things in the world. How I look at family, parenting, healthcare, education, and immigration. My faith drives a lot of how I look at the world.”

Mrs. Jordan has been upfront with her beliefs as well. As the executive director of Recovering from Religion, she often talks about her Southern Baptist background and her research that led to her atheist views. In a recent interview, Mrs. Jordan was asked about a belief in a deity. She answered, “I remain unconvinced.”

Faith Differences Spin into Negative Attacks

With the faith issue in hand, the Reeves for Tennessee campaign and state GOP leadership moved towards a series of pointed, negative remarks in an effort to amplify that issue.

From his position as Lieutenant Governor,  Randy McNally weighed in on the special election:

“Most Tennesseans, whether they are strong believers or not, recognize the strength and comfort faith provides. Gayle Jordan rejects faith as a positive force for good in the world. She believes faith is something from which people need to be rescued.

This is not the type of person we need in the Tennessee Senate.

I am urging everyone I know to strongly reject Gayle Jordan’s assault on faith and our Tennessee values.”

In a letter to area churches and pastors, Reeves for Tennessee Campaign Manager Matt Herriman wrote:

“In my many years of involvement within the political process, I have yet to encounter a democratic candidate who is so blatantly opposed to Christianity. We do, after all, live in the ‘Bible Belt.’”

When asked why the campaign has decided to highlight the differences in faith, Mr. Herriman said:

“We are not highlighting the difference between atheism and christianity. We are talking about her organization and the things that she has said. For your reference, I’ve attached a short list of the quotes and blogs she has posted as recent as December. She is very extreme and would have a hard time getting elected in Massachusetts or California with these extreme and judgmental views.”

The Gayle Jordan Campaign Responds

Up to this point, Mrs. Jordan and her campaign haven’t reacted with negative attacks of their own. In a comment from her team, Mrs. Jordan continues a focus on her top issues including healthcare and education:

“We began this campaign with the belief that what would most matter to voters would be the very real issues of discussing solutions to the suffering of too many Tennesseans in the opioid crisis, the possibility of hospitals closing and neighbors trying to figure out how to find health care they can afford, and offering an ear and a voice to the children and teachers waiting for someone to help champion the cause of public education. We did not believe that religious liberty was an issue on the table because our Constitution guarantees that safety to everyone.”

Mrs. Jordan’s campaign manager – Susan Steen, goes on to say:

“People matter. Healthcare matters. Public schools matter. Providing a way for people to access the internet without having to drive to a public library matters, and none of those items have been addressed by Mr. Reeves in his effort to malign the character of his opponent.”

Negative Rarely Works

While it can work in national races, negative attacks rarely work at the local election level. People in the community often know candidates fairly well. When a campaign goes negative, the community doesn’t react favorably to those tactics.

In an open letter to Mr. Reeves, one district fourteen voter put it this way:

“I’ve known your opponent personally for several years and you have her all wrong. I have a feeling you know that, though. You tell folks she’s dangerous, but I know the woman who opens up her home to strangers and has raised amazing children. You purposely misquote her, but I know an eloquent woman who speaks with great compassion about those in her community who struggle. Finally, you’re all too happy to point out that she’s an atheist, but I know the woman who has always respected my beliefs and never once even thought of mocking or degrading them, much less judging me because of them.”

We’ve seen a similar reaction in a recent Letter to the Editor. The negative attacks pushed a Republican voter to leave the party.

With lower voter turnout in special elections, negative campaigning can backfire and cost the GOP a win in the district. We’ll see on election night if these tactics from Mr. Reeves’ campaign works.

Find full press statements and comments used in this article here. Make sure to check out our guide on the election and vote!

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