Tennessee Republicans chose Bill Lee, a wealthy businessman who has never served in elected office, as their nominee for governor on Thursday, spurning a conservative candidate who eagerly sought — but only glancingly received — the support of President Trump’s White House.
Mr. Lee prevailed in a field of six candidates, The Associated Press reported, after a primary campaign that collectively cost Republicans about $46 million and previewed an autumn of political turbulence. He will face Karl Dean, a former Nashville mayor who easily won the Democratic primary, in the race to succeed Gov. Bill Haslam, a term-limited Republican.
“Looking back, I never could have imagined that the road would lead here,” Mr. Lee, appearing visibly surprised after a victory that followed a late surge in the polls, said Thursday night.
Although Tennessee is a conservative state that Republican presidential nominees have carried since 2000, Democrats believe they have recruited their strongest candidates in more than a decade. Both parties are preparing to spend millions of dollars on the campaigns for governor and an open Senate seat.
In the race for the Senate seat being vacated by Bob Corker, Marsha Blackburn, a Republican House member from Middle Tennessee, easily won her party’s nomination and will challenge Phil Bredesen, a moderate Democratic former governor.
Neither faced competitive primaries, and The A.P. projected both as winners less than 15 minutes after the polls closed across the state.
Left off the November ballot: Representative Diane Black, who had aggressively tied herself to the Trump administration but won only a modest show of support during her campaign for governor.
Ms. Blackburn has no such worries: Mr. Trump has already campaigned alongside her, hoping to install a new ally in a bitterly divided Senate chamber as Mr. Corker, one of Mr. Trump’s most persistent Republican critics on Capitol Hill, retires after two terms.
Although the Senate race is poised to be exceptionally hard fought and will draw most of the political attention in Tennessee in the coming months, Thursday’s most heated competition was concentrated in Republicans’ primary for governor. The staggeringly expensive contest renewed tensions about the direction of the party in a state that has long embraced moderate conservatives in the mold of Howard Baker, the longtime senator, and more recently Mr. Corker and Mr. Haslam.
“There’s been this battle for a long time between the pragmatists and the purists,” said John G. Geer, a political scientist and the dean of the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Ms. Black, who began the race as the apparent front-runner, was among the candidates who galloped rightward and heartily embraced Mr. Trump, a popular figure in Tennessee. But Ms. Black struggled late in the campaign as the race became more of a free-for-all than a coronation of any single candidate.
Powerful Republicans worried that nominating a hard-right conservative like Ms. Black would jeopardize their prospects of defeating a candidate like Mr. Dean, who could find substantial support among independent voters.
Mr. Lee’s victory, though, was something of a relief to many party leaders.
Although Mr. Lee has expressed support for the president — “I fully support Donald Trump, voted for him, went to his inauguration,” he said in one advertisement — he depicted himself as having softer edges than some of his rivals. In addition to Ms. Black, the Republican candidates for governor included Beth Harwell, the speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, and Randy Boyd, a former state economic and community development commissioner.
The Democratic Governors Association swiftly attacked Mr. Lee’s business record, and the group’s Republican counterpart portrayed Mr. Dean as a fiscally irresponsible public official.
Both organizations said their rivals would take Tennessee “backwards.”
Mr. Lee runs a sprawling family business whose services including heating and air-conditioning repair and home security.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote the White House, which has proved itself a pivotal arbiter in some Republican primaries, remained largely quiet after some leading Republicans in Tennessee and Washington privately signaled their preference that Mr. Trump stay out of the race.
He did so, but Vice President Mike Pence endorsed Ms. Black, a former House colleague, in a post on Twitter last week, praising her as a “strong supporter” of the White House’s agenda.
Mr. Pence’s carefully calibrated tweet on her behalf was seen by White House aides as a way of fulfilling his personal commitment to Ms. Black without involving the president in a race that the West Wing saw little upside to engaging in.
The bifurcation was somewhat odd — a vice president taking sides in a contested party primary but not the president — yet it came as something of a relief to Republican officials, some of them said. They had feared that Mr. Trump would weigh in, or that Mr. Pence would offer a full-throated appeal for Ms. Black while visiting Tennessee late last month, and were satisfied about the more cautious intervention.
The restraint, though, was not for the congresswoman’s lack of trying: She personally lobbied Mr. Trump for his support and also deployed some of her House colleagues to make the case to the president, according to a White House official.
And her advertisements made no secret of her loyalty to the president: One recent commercial depicted three separate meetings between Mr. Trump and Ms. Black.
But a tweet carrying Mr. Trump’s endorsement never came. She was running in third place, well behind Mr. Lee, when he was declared the winner.