After Smear Campaign, Atheist Loses Special Election for Tennessee State Senate

While the nation was watching the special election in Pennsylvania last night — and with good reason, since it involved a U.S. House seat — there was another special election yesterday in Tennessee to replace a state senator.

As we’ve mentioned a few times on this site, Democrat Gayle Jordan chose to run because she didn’t want to see a Republican skate to victory unopposed, even in her overwhelmingly red district. She wanted to give progressives an option. So what if she was openly atheist? So what if she’s the director of a group called Recovering From Religion? It’s not like a Jesus-loving Democrat had much of a chance, either. So she ran.

And then something remarkable happened.

Instead of just ignoring her, the Tennessee Republican Party waged a smear campaign against her, drawing attention to her non-religious beliefs. They called her a “radical atheist.” The Lt. Governor called her “dangerous.” They sent out flyers calling her “kooky.” They took a joke she made on Facebook out of context and used it to suggest she was a traitor. In that particular case, they even used a picture of Jordan with a gay couple, triggering the PTSD of one of those men who happened to serve in the military. (The couple is now suing the state GOP.)

It was a lot of activity for a race that a Republican could have won by doing absolutely nothing.

That election took place yesterday… and, to no one’s surprise, Jordan lost.

To be honest, that result is probably close to what I would have predicted a month ago. But that also makes me really wonder why the GOP bothered with the smear campaign. What did it accomplish? What was the strategic benefit?

There is a silver lining here. Jordan also ran for this seat in 2016, when she lost by a 50-point margin. She only earned 25% of the vote that year. This time around, she actually performed slightly better. I don’t know if that’s anti-Trump sentiment, backlash against the smears, more familiarity with her name, or just the result of fewer people voting.

Either way, thousands of people in a red district got the opportunity to vote for a candidate they could be proud of instead of staying at home and not voting at all.

Here’s the speech Jordan gave to her supporters last night. You should listen to it. It’s inspiring.

Jordan spends a lot of time talking about what they accomplished despite having their backs against the wall, including educating people about church/state separation and exposing the bottom-of-the-barrel thinking that permeates the Republican Party. They found support in a lot of unlikely places.

If the goal is to flip the district by the next election and give the people a candidate who truly cares for everybody, having someone worth campaigning for in special elections and midterm races is a huge factor in making that happen.

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