Democrats could pick up a Senate seat in Tennessee next year...but it would require the biggest recruiting coup of the cycle. Recently retired Governor Phil Bredesen leads Bob Corker 46-41 in a hypothetical contest. If Bredesen isn't in the mix Corker is in pretty good shape, leading the other five Democrats tested against him by margins ranging anywhere from 15 to 23 points.
Corker's popularity is pretty average for a US Senator, with 42% of voters approving of the job he's doing to 36% who disapprove. His numbers break down much as you would expect- 62% of Republicans give him good marks and an almost equal number of Democrats at 57% think he's doing poorly. Independents are split nearly even with 43% rating Corker positively to 41% with a negative opinion. In a state that's trended increasingly red over the last few years average popularity is probably going to get you reelected as a Republican incumbent.
That is, unless you have to run against a politician with transcendent popularity- and that description applies to Bredesen. His overall favorability is certainly impressive, with 63% of voters holding a positive opinion of him to only 19% with a negative one. But what's more impressive is how the numbers break down along party lines- 71% of Democrats, 61% of independents, and 57% of Republicans like Bredesen. Politicians with that kind of universal appeal across the aisle are few and far between these days. As a result Bredesen gets 83% of the Democratic vote while Corker can only keep 73% of Republicans in line, and Bredesen leads by nine points with independents. That gives him his overall five point lead.
When you get beyond Bredesen Democratic hopes don't look as good. The next closest to Corker is admittedly pie in the sky as a potential candidate Al Gore, who trails by a 53-38 margin. It's safe to say feelings toward Gore on the home front haven't thawed since he lost the state in the 2000 Presidential race- only 40% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to 51% with a negative one.
Another Democrat who has fallen far out of favor with Tennessee voters is Harold Ford Jr. He came quite close to winning this seat in 2006 but has firmly established himself as a New Yorker now and would trail Corker by 23 points in a rematch at 55-32. Ford's favorability is now down all the way to 26%, while 42% of voters say they see him in a negative light.
The other folks we tested are Congressman Jim Cooper who trails 50-32, country singer Tim McGraw who trails 50-28, and former Congressman Bart Gordon who trails 52-29. McGraw is a Democrat and has said he might be interested in running for office in the future. He is quite popular in the state with 38% of voters expressing positive feelings toward him to only 16% who rate him negatively. Democrats, Republicans, and independents all give him good marks. But he would have some work to do to establish himself as a credible political figure. Cooper (53% of voters with no opinion) and Gordon (58% with no opinion) are both largely unknown at this point.
Corker's not in huge peril by any means but this one at least has the potential to be interesting, and it would certainly be if Bredesen got into the field.
Full results here