Could Obama take Tennessee in 2012?

President Barack Obama and Cabinet members. (Photo: MGNOnline)

Authored By James Harrison

Tennessee hasn’t gone blue in a presidential election since 1996. 

Could it happen in 2012? 

“Slim to none, and slim has just left,” said one responder to the question on Twitter. 

“Can’t answer because I can’t stop laughing,” another said

But the team working to re-elect President Barack Obama is hoping there may be a chance, as organizing efforts move further into the state. An employment page on Obama’s website currently lists more than 50 positions for hire-including a regional field director for Tennessee.

Despite there being no clear Republican front-runner at this point, the Obama campaign spent $17.7 million in January alone. And with nine months remaining till the Nov. 6 election, some Obama supporters think that “anything can happen.”

“It’s going to be a lot closer than in 2008,” said Brandon Puttbrese, communications director for the Tennessee Democratic Party. “Lightning could strike. Tennesseans are moderate people-in 2008, Barack Obama took home more votes than Gov. Bill Haslam did in 2010. If Democrats are fired up and Republicans are not, anything could happen.”

Puttbrese cited his sense of a growing “enthusiasm gap” for the current Republican candidates and said it could wind up having an adverse effect in a state known for its conservative values-especially among moderate and independent voters. 

“The Republicans at the top of the ticket are the most extreme, intolerant and out-of-touch batch of candidates who have ever run for the nomination,” Puttbrese said. “We’ve seen it over and over again that base GOP voters just do not like these guys. The more they learn about them, the less they like them.”

When asked for a response, Chris Devaney, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, compared Obama’s campaign spending in Tennessee to his “wasting of taxpayer dollars.” 

“Saying Obama has a chance to win Tennessee is like saying a Democrat can win the 3rd Congressional District,” Devaney said. “You have a better chance of seeing eight states from Rock City before that happens. Republicans are eager to send a message to President Obama that we can’t afford four more years of his failed policies and lack of leadership.” 

Dr. Joshua Clinton, assistant professor and co-director for the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt University, didn’t completely rule out the possibility of an Obama victory in Tennessee, but the professor added that chances were so slight he wouldn’t bet anything on it. 

“If you look at the polls, the majority of Tennesseans disapprove of Obama,” Clinton said. “We’re still a conservative, red state. Even if people are not enthusiastic about the choices they have, are they going to vote for Obama? Probably not. The margin could potentially be better in 2008, given the enthusiasm gap … but if I were a betting person, it would still be red at the end of the day.”

Clinton also dismissed Puttbrese’s claim of Obama pulling down more Tennessee votes in 2008 than Haslam in 2010, citing differences in voter turnout for presidential and midterm elections. 

“People are more energized about presidential politics than midterm elections and governors’ races,” he said. “It’s hard to interpret that as saying Obama’s more popular than Haslam. I don’t think that’s an appropriate representation.”

Clinton cited a recent Vanderbilt poll, which found 51 percent of Tennesseans approving of Haslam, while only 39 percent said they approved of the president.

The same poll found Tennesseans favored Herman Cain as the Republican presidential nominee.

Tennesseans will have their first chance to vote for either Obama or one of four remaining Republican candidates who will be on the state’s primary ballot on March 6.