By COREY DADE
President-elect Barack Obama chalked up prizes among the South's formerly red states, but Republicans dramatically increased their power in Tennessee -- a state that not long ago looked ripe for the Democratic revival.
Republican Sen. John McCain defeated Mr. Obama by 15 points in the state. Republicans held their four U.S. House seats, took control of both chambers of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, and Sen. Lamar Alexander became the first Republican to carry all but one county in his re-election win -- even taking a quarter of Tennessee's black votes.
Tennessee Republicans seemed immune to the national dissatisfaction toward the party that laid the groundwork for Mr. Obama's historic win and caused the ouster of prominent Republicans in Congress. That discontent helped propel Mr. Obama to victories in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.
Republicans routed Tennessee with a moderate, bipartisan style that could offer a path to recovery for the national party. Using a "Take the Hill" campaign to win the legislature, they largely avoided hammering such issues as abortion and immigration in favor of campaigning on lower taxes, among other economic issues, to appeal to independents, who make up 30% of the state's electorate. Several candidates, most prominently Sen. Alexander, burnished their records of building bipartisan coalitions.
In 2006, when Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. came within three percentage points of becoming the state's first African-American senator, observers believed that an influx of northerners and westerners had begun to break up entrenched racial and cultural attitudes, favoring Democrats.
The rapidly growing region around Nashville, where thousands of transplants are drawn by the health-care industry and Nissan Motor Co.'s North American headquarters, is driving the kind of change found in larger abundance among its Southern neighbors. Nearly 20% of Tennesseans were born outside the South, compared with 13.5% in 1990.
But while similar demographic changes in neighboring Virginia and North Carolina helped push both states into Mr. Obama's column, other factors in Tennessee played against the Democrats. Tennessee's population of blacks, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, is one of the lowest in the South, at 17%. The state also has a large base of religious conservatives that pulls the state slightly right of center on social issues.
The Obama campaign virtually ignored Tennessee, given its recent history of favoring Republican presidential candidates, including when it shunned its own Al Gore in 2000. The Clinton-Gore ticket did win Tennessee in 1992 and 1996.
Upon launching his bid for a second term, Sen. Alexander, a former two-term governor known for his populist positions, rolled out the support of roughly 50 leading Democrats.
"There are lessons learned in our re-election for the rest of the party," said Tom Ingram, who managed Sen. Alexander's campaign. "Lamar was re-elected in large measure because of his longstanding appeal to Democrats and independents, which he's earned by learning that the way to get things done is by working across the aisle. What we've heard top to bottom this year is people are tired of hearing elected officials bickering with each other. They elected people they think will do things differently. If they don't they'll throw some more of us out the next go-round."
Sen. Alexander, who defeated Democrat Bob Tuke by 33 points, also received endorsements from prominent blacks such as Memphis Mayor Willie Harrenton, Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. of Shelby County, which includes Memphis, and the wife of former longtime NAACP President Benjamin Mays, who lives in Memphis. Campaign aides say Sen. Alexander got about 26% of black votes, while roughly 95% of blacks in the state voted for Mr. Obama.
"Sen. Alexander and I have been friends for years," said Mr. Wharton, who backed the senator after the Democrat he supported, Mike McWhorter, opted out of the race. "Tennessee is sort of atypical, if you will. I don't know of anyone who hasn't run for statewide office as a Republican and not seriously courted Democrats and African-Americans."
Republican Party officials say they didn't shy from their bedrock opposition to abortion or support for expanding gun rights and lower taxes. Instead, they put local Democratic candidates on the defensive by aligning them with Mr. Obama, whose stances on such issues are perceived as more liberal than opinions held by a majority of Tennessee voters.
One popular tactic was a bumper sticker hammering congressional Democrats, as well as Mr. Obama, for initially opposing offshore drilling this summer when gasoline prices hit record highs. Sales of the bumper sticker, which says "YOUR WALLET: The only place Democrats want to drill," raised roughly $10,000 for the state Republican party.
Republican candidates also campaigned on pragmatic solutions to quality-of-life issues that resonated with suburban families and independents. One issue that drew wide support was a call from state Sen. Diane Black, who won re-election, to divert more Medicare funds from nursing homes to at-home care.
"I don't think that the national party can learn every lesson it needs to learn from any one state. I do believe the Republican success in Tennessee can teach the national party nuts-and-bolts stuff," said Bill Hobbs, spokesman for the Tennessee Republican Party.
Write to Corey Dade at firstname.lastname@example.orgPrinted in The Wall Street Journal, page A2