An overview of the candidates who have launched a campaign for governor.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black continues to be the most recognizable name in a crowded field of 2018 Tennessee gubernatorial candidates, a new Vanderbilt University poll finds.
In fact, the Republican from Gallatin has surged ahead in terms of name recognition in the last six months, while her six other opponents have seen little change since earlier this year.
The poll, released Thursday, found 59 percent of respondents recognized Black’s name, a 10 percentage point jump from a survey released in May.
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With 41 percent, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, came in second in terms of name recognition. That’s a 3 percentage point increase from Vanderbilt’s May poll.
Other Republican candidates saw similar increases, including House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Knoxville entrepreneur Randy Boyd, who had name recognition of 40 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
In May, 34 percent of respondents recognized Harwell’s name, while Boyd had 26 percent.
Twenty-eight percent of respondents recognized former Republican state Sen. Mae Beavers’ name — the same percentage she had in May.
Trailing in their respective fields were Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, a Republican, and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat. Just 14 percent of respondents recognized Lee’s name, while 10 percent knew Fitzhugh in the latest poll.
Aside from general name recognition, Black is well known throughout the state, the poll found.
A breakdown of name recognition by region found 85 percent of respondents in the Nashville area knew her, followed by 75 percent in a broader Middle Tennessee area. Black’s recognition in both areas is higher than any other candidate in the race.
In recent months, Black, who is the House Budget Committee chairman, has frequently appeared on national television while stumping for the GOP’s tax reform legislation and the federal government’s budget.
Dean came in a close second in terms of name recognition in Nashville at 78 percent.
Outside of Middle Tennessee, Black has a narrow edge on her competitors. In East Tennessee, she leads the way with 45 percent name recognition, followed by Boyd, whom 43 percent of respondents said they knew. Harwell came in third with 33 percent.
In West Tennessee — an area that many believe is wide open for any candidate to gain momentum — Black leads the way again with 36 percent. Boyd and Harwell came in second and third, respectively, with 33 percent and 32 percent of respondents in the region knowing the two candidates.
Just 13 percent of West Tennesseans surveyed knew Fitzhugh, who is the lone candidate from the region.
Vanderbilt political science professor John Geer said Black’s strength in name recognition might be the result of some voters confusing her with U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is running for U.S. Senate.
“There’s probably going to be some confusion in the public between Blackburn and Black, so that in both cases their numbers may be a bit artificial, a little bit higher than they actually are just because of the confusion of the two names,” Geer said.
The survey did not ask respondents about whom they would vote for in the race.
The poll, which surveyed 1,013 registered Tennessee voters, was conducted by the Vanderbilt University Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions between Nov. 16 and Dec. 5. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Jordan Buie contributed to this report.
Reach Joel Ebert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-772-1681 and on Twitter @joelebert29.
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