In Tennessee, Blackburn Becomes First Woman U.S. Senate Nominee in 40 Years while Black Falls Short of Making History

February 27, 2023

Tennessee is one of six states nationwide to never send a woman to the U.S. Senate or the governor’s mansion. In the August 2nd primary, U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn moved one step closer to an historic first in Tennessee, while fellow U.S. Representative Diane Black fell short of becoming the state’s first woman to clinch a major party gubernatorial nomination. In addition to Black, three (1D, 2R) other women candidates for governor were defeated in their bids to break the gubernatorial glass ceiling in Tennessee this year.

As the only two women currently serving in the U.S. House from Tennessee, Blackburn and Black’s departures may mean that Tennessee’s House delegation is all-male in 2019. At least five non-incumbent women nominees selected on Thursday – four Democrats and one Republican – will try to prevent that from happening, but they are each running in districts where their opponents, at least currently, are strongly favored. They represent 29% (5 of 17) of U.S. House nominees selected on Thursday. As of Friday morning, one primary race with a woman candidate (the Democratic primary in TN-08) remains too close to call. Regardless of the result, women will be at least 50% of the Democratic House nominees in Tennessee this year.

US House

  • 5 (4D, 1R) of 12 (41.7%) women candidates for the U.S. House in TN already won their primary bids for office, including 4 of 7 (57.1%) Democratic women and 1 of 5 (20%) Republican women candidates. One Democratic woman is in a race that is too close to call as of Friday morning.
  • Women are 5 of 17 (29.4%) of the major party nominees for the U.S. House in Tennessee as of Friday morning, including 4 of 8 (50%) Democrats and 1 of 9 (11.1%) Republicans. One Democratic House contest remains too close to call as of Friday morning.
    • 2 (2D) women nominees are running in open seat districts currently rated as solidly Republican by Cook Political Report.
    • 3 (2D, 1R) women nominees will challenge incumbents in districts that strongly favor their opponents.
    • Tennessee’s only incumbent women representatives – Diane Black (R) and Marsha Blackburn (R) – did not run for re-election this year, opting instead to run for governor and the U.S. Senate, respectively.
  • 2 of 5 (40%) women U.S. House nominees in Tennessee are women of color: Charlotte Bergmann (R), who is Black, and Renee Hoyos (D), who is Latina. Erika Stotts Pearson (D), who is Black, is still in the running in Tennessee’s 8th congressional district. No woman of color has ever represented Tennessee in Congress.

US Senate

Current U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R) was the only woman among 5 (3D, 2R) candidates for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat. With her primary victory, she becomes the first Republican woman nominee for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee. She is also the first woman in 40 years to be nominated by a major party in Tennessee for the U.S. Senate. Jane Eskind was the Democratic Senate nominee in 1978; she was defeated in the general election. If successful in November, Blackburn will be the first woman senator from Tennessee.


Tennessee will remain one of 22 states nationwide to have never had a woman governor. All 4 (1D, 3R) women candidates for governor were defeated in the primary, including current U.S. Representative Diane Black (R), who was an early favorite, State Representative and Speaker of the Tennessee House Beth Harwell (R), Mezianne Payne (D), and Kay White (R). While women represented 44% of gubernatorial primary candidates, they are absent among both major party nominees.