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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 30, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 30, 2010

CREATED Jul 30, 2010

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

July 30, 2010

HENRY & YARBRO ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE GOVERNOR'S RACE GOES NATIONAL; AD WARS; THE EARLY VOTE AND MONEY; ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE

It's the hottest primary race in Nashville.

This week on INSIDE POLITICS our guests are long-time Democratic State Senator Doug Henry and his challenger, attorney Jeff Yarbro.

Both campaigns have raised and spent lots of money (hundreds of thousands of dollars). Even Governor Phil Bredesen (who lives in the 21st Senate district) has gotten involved, first strongly encouraging Henry to seek re-election one more time (he's been in the Senate nearly 40 years) then endorsing the Senator (which is a rare move in a contested primary). The Governor has been featured in a strong direct mail piece and a TV ad urging voters to support the long-time lawmaker.

As we did these interviews, the intensity of the race increased still further, with Senator Henry's campaign launching an attack ad on Yarbro for working for a "lobbying firm" and representing among other clients, BP. Yarbro, who works for the large Nashville law firm, Bass, Berry & Sims, says he is not a lobbyist and has never represented BP. Senator Henry says he has court documents that say otherwise.

Yarbro has now produced and aired his own TV ad denying Henry's claims and saying the Senator's campaign is failing. Indeed, this seems to be the first attack ad Senator Henry has ever done during his political career. And the timing of it would certainly appear to indicate that the Henry camp is concerned about where the race stands.

Another question mark is what will happen to Senator Henry's long time appeal to the many Republicans in the district who have traditionally come over and voted for him in the Democratic primary. Will they do that again, or decide to vote in the very active GOP gubernatorial primary? They can't vote in both.

The early voting numbers, while likely approaching a new state-wide record of close to 500,000 ballots, don't necessarily tell the tale. On the one hand, county-wide figures from the Davidson County Election Commission (as of late Thursday, July 29) cited by THE NASHVILLE CITY PAPER show that more voters (by a slight majority) have decided to vote in the Republican primary this time. That's an historic figure for Davidson County where usually the Democratic primary draws anywhere from 70% to 80% of the vote.

So does that mean Senator Henry is in trouble? That's hard to say, since according to the Election Commission numbers, it appears so far 42% of the early Democratic primary votes (3,582) are coming from the 21st District. Are some of those Republicans who will be Democrats for the day to help Henry? Or does this reflect the get-out-the-vote effort by Yarbro? I suspect both campaigns have some idea as they have identified their supporters and know exactly who has voted early. But the rest of us may just have to wait to see what happens when the early vote is released next Thursday evening, August 5.

An upset for Yarbro, turning out a 40-year lawmaker and a Nashville political icon, is certainly possible.

Our interviews with Senator Henry and Jeff Yarbro are quite interesting. I will be waiting to see what kind of response we get from this show. You can watch it on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NewsChannel5, at 6:30 p.m. Friday (tonight) as well as 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning. We are also featured on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 and NewsChannel5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Our air times are Friday (tonight) at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

THE GOVERNOR'S RACE GOES NATIONAL

Tennessee governor's race went national in its final days.

And the reviews are not good.

Getting the most heat was Congressman Zach Wamp who was called out by an editorial in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (July 29). The paper took strong issue with Wamp's comments made to Hotline on Call that ObamaCare is making secession an attractive option. "I hope the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government," said Wamp. The editorial complained that Wamp may be showing "a little too much id" on the topic.

The piece also called out Wamp for his voting record while in Congress saying he is ‘an epic spender and earmarker, especially for the Tennessee Valley Authority and other federal boondoggles." The editorial also cited a Wamp quote from 2006 where he said; "You know, I will defend until my death the ability of Congress to direct funding or to earmark projects."

Concluded the WALL STREET JOURNAL, "Mr. Wamp is once again trying to appeal to the GOP's opposition to big government, but Tennessee voters will want to look at his priorities when he was in a position of actual power." Wow! It reads just like Bill Haslam's attack ad!

This is not the only attack Wamp has gotten in recent days for something he talked about on the stump. During a recent forum he said the long-term unemployed "should be looking for work, not just sitting back and waiting" for extended unemployment benefits. Wamp was criticized for blaming the victims and wrongly assuming people aren't looking for work or don't want a job.

One of Wamp's opponents, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey also got criticized for one of his recent statements, telling a group that Islam was perhaps not a religion, but "a cult or whatever you call it." National Islamic groups among others in the mainstream media called him out about that.

Why these last minute gaffes?

Perhaps it's because both Ramsey and Wamp are making strong, last-minute appeals to their very conservative bases, and some of things they are being criticized for saying, play much better with those voters. So maybe the national and statewide criticism is just the price they have to pay to reach out to these potential supporters.

Why is that important?

Well, if you believe the statewide poll done by the Mason-Dixon group commissioned by several daily newspapers and a Knoxville TV station, the race between Wamp and Ramsey is very close for second place. The numbers for Ramsey were particularly better than other recent public polls. That has likely made it tougher for Wamp to get Ramsey supporters to defect in the final days in a last minute effort to defeat the more moderate Bill Haslam, who the polls all agree leads the race by a double digit margin.

Firing up and getting out your base to the polls is the key to winning any election and so sometimes that may mean getting caught saying things that get you criticized elsewhere.

But perhaps the story that is drawing the most attention to Tennessee's governor's race (and not in a good way) is a one minute statement on a local Nashville TV station made by perennial candidate Basil Marceaux. He is running this time in the Republican primary for both Governor and the 3rd congressional district seat in Chattanooga. His statement, both rambling, and at times, almost incoherent, has become an internet sensation, going viral on YouTube and catching the eye of the mainstream media along with the nightly comedy news shows as well. That includes THE COLBERT REPORT where the host broke down laughing during the piece and quipped that Americans are known to want to vote for a candidate who they'd most like to have a beer with. It appears, Colbert says, that this guy may have had a few before he taped his TV statement.

Marceaux hasn't got a snowball's chance to win the gubernatorial primary, of course. But, after getting all this publicity and likely added name recognition, it will be interesting to see what kind of vote he does garner as an also-ran Thursday night.

AD WARS

The ad wars continue to rage, especially when you turn on the local TV news. All three major GOP candidates have their attack ads and response ads on the air, although they are also beginning to mix in those final closing ads that are a bit more positive and go back to their original themes and messages (in this case in particular, that they are THE conservative candidate and best qualified to be the next governor).

The saturation of these political ads, with so many active races in this area, can be a little mind-numbing and hard to keep up with, frankly. This is particularly true when the candidates are running the same ads multiple times in the same newscast. One night recently, I saw Bill Haslam's response/attack ad on Zach Wamp three times in less than 45 minutes on one channel. Seeing the same ad twice in a newscast does seem unusual either.

It is interesting to note that Zach Wamp's latest attack ad on Haslam focuses primarily on him raising property taxes as Mayor of Knoxville. With all the many things that Wamp has criticized about Haslam, I guess raising taxes must poll the highest as the issue to go after him about. We will see how that works.

The attacks made in TV ads many times make candidates mad, but I can rarely, if ever, remember it resulting in a lawsuit during the campaign. But that's what has happened in the GOP primary in 6th Congressional District race.

State Senator Diane Black and her husband's company (which does drug testing) went to court asking that the attack ads by opponent Lou Anne Zelenick be taken off the air and that defamation damages be assessed because the ads are false. The ads in question accuse Black of helping her husband get a million dollar state contract (based largely on her voting for the general state budget each year). In her own response ads on TV, Black denies the charges and makes her own counter charges against Zelenick concerning how she has operated her construction business.

Courts are historically very reluctant to intervene into political races or political discourse. That was the case here as Judge Hamilton Gayden denied the restraining order and is allowing the ads to continue. But he did warn when the full lawsuit is heard, continuing to run these spots could have consequences if Zelenick loses the case. The real question may be, will Black continue to pursue this case if she wins the nomination?

There are some who believe this development, had it occurred a few weeks ago, might have greatly impacted this race. Now it may be too late except to foster a lasting feud between Black and Zelenick. Could this fight help the other candidate in this race, State Senator Jim Tracy? Perhaps, but increasingly when I talk to political observers in that district they express real concern about what has happened to Tracy's campaign efforts which appeared so promising when he entered the race.

By the way, it is not just on TV where the candidates are making attacks. Bill Haslam‘s campaign is sending out a direct mail piece that goes after Congressman Wamp and "what he's been doing with your money in Washington." That's a similar theme to what the Mayor has talked about in his TV attack ads, but this time it appears that this mailer is being aimed directly at Wamp's base, being sent to his some of his largest supporters in Chattanooga (and perhaps other areas). It accuses Wamp of voting for "billions in wasteful pork barrel spending"(The Bridge to Nowhere, Cash for Clunkers), "flip flops and broken promises (term limits & PAC money) and for being a "Washington Insider." It closes by saying: "A Washington Big Spender: The Last Thing We Need As Governor."

Finally, Democrat Mike McWherter has finally become last major gubernatorial candidate to go on TV. It's a good serviceable ad that stresses the candidate's emphasis on creating jobs and giving tax credits to Tennessee businesses which create new employment in the state. The ad also positions the Democrat as appearing above the fray while his GOP opponents go after each other. The question is: Will the McWherter campaign be able to find enough money to air this and other ads going into the fall? And can the McWherter camp find a way to increase enthusiasm among Tennessee Democrats, which seems to be flagging like it is in the rest of the nation.

THE EARLY VOTE AND MONEY

I mentioned the early voting numbers previously in this column. They are not only historic in overall turnout but portend a change in Tennessee politics. As of Thursday (July 29) 418,407 voters had cast their ballots early. 264,112 voted in the Republican primary. 131,439 voted Democratic. That's a two to one ratio for the GOP which I suspect is a record for Republicans both in numbers and certainly in the dominance over Democrats statewide. I also strongly suspect you will see more of the same on Election Day.

I plan to check these numbers to be sure, but my guess is the previous record vote in a Republican statewide primary would have been in 1994 when we were elected a governor and both U.S. Senators. There were somewhat contested primary races in all those GOP contests that year, especially the six-pack of candidates from which emerged U.S. Senator Bill Frist as the winner. I suspect given the interest in this year's GOP governor's primary there could be a new record coming for people voting Republican in a statewide primary. My first check of the numbers from 1994 shows 386,696 votes were cast in the GOP gubernatorial primary (which re-nominated Governor Don Sundquist) . With the early vote showing Republican turnout already at almost 265,000 with two days of early voting to be done and counted and all of Election Day to come, a new GOP statewide record for Republican turnout is all but a certainty.

I know a lot of this is due to the strong interest in the GOP race for governor. But unless trends change, this election portends again that Tennessee is getting to be a redder and redder state for the GOP.

Money is also a good indication of how politics are moving. The latest campaign finance numbers are out and it continues to show what a fund raising machine Bill Haslam is (and it hints at the personal resources he can also put into the mix if he needs to do so).

According to figures I found from Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, Haslam raised $544,956 from July 1-26 which is an amount more than two to one over what Wamp ($220,342) and Ramsey ($146,654) raised during that time frame. Plus Haslam loaned his campaign another $1 million bucks to keep his campaign moving ahead.

In overall spending it appears Haslam has now overwhelmed his opponents ($8,820,662) as compared to Wamp ($3,376,927) and Ramsey ($2,433,225). Those are ratios of almost 3 and 4 to 1.

As for entering a possible general election race against Democrat Mike McWherter, the cash on hand looks reasonable close with Haslam at $1,908,550 and McWherter at $1,272,416. But the Democrat raised just $89,325 this last month, while again Haslam brought in more than $540,000. Not a good ratio for the Democrats.

ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE

I am pleased to announce that the NewChannel5 Network will have complete coverage of primary election night on Thursday, August 5.

That includes a two hour show (7-9 p.m.) on NewsChannel5 Plus with Rhori Johnston and myself, along with candidate HQ reports and, of course, the fastest election returns! Remember NewsChannel5 Plus can be seen on Channel 250 on the Comcast and Charter cable system as well as on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

We will also be doing election cut-ins throughout the evening on the main channel (WTVF-TV) and you can find the latest results as well on line at www.newschannel5.com

Watch us!