Gov. Bill Lee secured a second term as Tennessee governor Tuesday night, fending off a challenge from Democrats hoping to challenge Lee’s record over abortion and education.
The Associated Press called the race for Lee at 7:02 p.m. CT, just moments after polls closed. Early results showed Lee with a huge lead over Democrat Dr. Jason Martin, a Nashville physician, and several independent candidates.
“People want a good job and a good school for their kid in a safe neighborhood, and I wake up every day thinking about that,” Lee said in his victory speech. “And we’ve gotten a whole lot done in the last four years, but I decided to run again because we have a lot more work to do. And I thank you for giving me the chance.”
During the campaign, Lee avoided acknowledging — or debating — Martin. It was a strategy many Republicans took this election season.
Lee declined a request to appear on WPLN’s daily show This is Nashville with Martin to answer listener questions last week.
His refusal to do interviews with local media attracted some flack in recent days when Lee instead did a sit-down interview with conservative host Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire.
In campaign ads, Lee touted Tennessee’s strong economy and business environment as reasons to re-elect him.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done the last four years — America’s fastest growing economy, America’s lowest taxes, a lot more skilled trades,” he said in an ad. “And I think we’re just getting started.”
Lee’s low-key approach to campaigning was effective in convincing voters like Melinda Hart of LaVergne. She said while she would like to see more Democrats in office, she still cast her ballot for Lee.
“I just think he’s been doing a good job so far,” Hart said outside her precinct. “I don’t see anything that would have be say no, I want you out of there.”
Despite Lee outspending and outraising Martin, the Democrat maintained that his goal was to open up a conversation. He criticized the governor’s record on abortion and education.
“He’s going to put people like me — critical care doctors — who are trying to save the life of our patients … in jail with felony convictions,” Martin told This is Nashville.
He also criticized Gov. Lee’s proposed partnership with the conservative Hillsdale College earlier this year. Martin said Gov. Lee’s support of using public funds for private school vouchers and charter schools was the wrong approach.
Martin’s loss continues Democrats’ dry spell in the state. The party has not secured a gubernatorial race since 2006.
Lee was a newcomer to politics when he ran for governor in 2018. Before then, he ran his family’s home services firm based in Williamson County.
Lee has said he wants to continue focusing on Tennessee’s economic health and expanding vocational training.
Update: This story has been updated to include a quote from Gov. Bill Lee during his victory speech Tuesday night.