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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton speaks during a press conference at the Hamilton County Courthouse Thursday, September 5, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sexton was in town for a meeting with local elected officials.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee House Democrats had high hopes this year of successfully reducing Republicans' 73-representative supermajority in the 99-member chamber with gains of as many as four seats.

But instead, every House Republican incumbent and all newcomers who won their GOP primaries in August retained their seats.

House Democrats came away with one victory of sorts on Tuesday. It was the defeat of a longtime socially conservative Democrat, Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis, who last spring was cast out of the Tennessee Democratic Party for siding with Republicans on abortion restrictions and school vouchers.

DeBerry ran as an independent, losing to Democratic nominee Torrey Harris, 77% to 23%.

Republicans, who had favored DeBerry, nonetheless gloated over fending off Democrats in a number of their own contests.

(Read more: Republican state Sen. Gardenhire emerges as victor in Senate District 10 match with Democratic challenger Scruggs)

"We kept every House seat," Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville said Wednesday, attributing the GOP's success to "a lot of hard work, a lot of hard work and a very good ground game."

Sexton said Republicans had field staff and "very good person-to-person contact with voters and a lot of good interactions and, you know, we were able to identify and maintain all of our seats — even when polling was very volatile. We were very happy keeping all of our seats, especially when six months ago [Democratic Party Chair] Mary Mancini — she made a tweet, I looked it up, she said, 'We were going to pick up eight.'"

Republicans were well funded.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville said "obviously that's disappointing" that party candidates didn't pick up GOP-held seats. "You know, all the races, all the pick-up efforts we were making were in districts that Republicans had held for many years, so we knew it was going to be difficult.

(Read more: Development concerns take center stage in Red Bank, Walden municipal elections)

"I had hoped to pick up seats and we did not for the first time since I've been caucus chair. And that was a disappointment. I think actually we had some of our best candidates ever. Just in this environment, they were not able to take a seat from the Republicans."

Stewart and others had hoped with presidential nominee Joe Biden at the top of their ticket, and given what he characterized as President Donald Trump's "failures," Tennessee Democrats would benefit, especially in urban and some suburban areas. But that didn't work out as hoped.

"We just didn't quite get there," Stewart said, pointing to the House District 97 contest in Shelby County, where Democratic nominee Gabby Salinas narrowly lost to Republican John Gillespie for the seat vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Jim Coley. In the case of a Knoxville House contest, the GOP nomination of a more socially moderate candidate created problems for the Democratic nominees.

State House Democrats did not target any Southeast Tennessee contests. But Senate Democrats did as Chattanooga assistant police chief Glenn Scruggs took on incumbent Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga in Senate District 10. Scruggs won in Hamilton County but Gardenhire swept the district's Republican strongholds in Bradley County and won with 53.18% of the vote.

(Read more: Hullander defends her District 3 runoff win; Elsberry the new sole commissioner in Chattooga County)

Senate Democrats knocked off a moderate Republican senator in Nashville, increasing their membership from five members to six. Republicans still have 27 members.

Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, said he believes Democratic leaders should hold a "debriefing" on what happened this year "because there was an expectation there was going to be more seats" won in the House.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

(Read more: Incumbent Congressmen Fleischmann, DesJarlais win re-election bids)

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