Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 6, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 6, 2010

CREATED Aug 6, 2010


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

August 6, 2010


As they begin their general election campaigns for the fall, the two newly voter-selected Republican and Democratic nominees for Governor will join us on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.

This is the matchup we knew has been coming for several months now, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and West Tennessee businessman Mike McWherter. With Haslam's fund raising and his personal resources, as well as the Republicans setting a new party record for turnout in their gubernatorial primary (over 700,000), McWherter is clearly the underdog even with the help of his father, former Governor Ned McWherter and the current Governor Phil Bredesen, who has endorsed him.

We are so happy to have both these candidates join us for their first major interviews as they begin their gubernatorial fall campaigns.

Watch us on NASHVILLECHANNEL5 (WTVF-TV) this evening (Friday) at 6:30 p.m. as well as Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. We will also be on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS several times as well, including 7:00 p.m. tonight (Friday), 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. You can find NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS on Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 as well as on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.


Unencumbered or enlightened by many precinct breakdowns on the vote, here are some thoughts and reflections on some of the key primary races.


From the comments both of them made in claiming victory, I think you will see the governor's race move back towards the center this fall. There will much more talk about jobs, the economy, and the role of government (how much smaller it should be and what services to still provide, if the candidates will ever give any specifics).

I think you will also hear much less of about who is the most or the better conservative. What you will also hear more about is who is the best qualified, who has the most experience to be our state's chief executive. Haslam will say he does because he's done it as Mayor of Knoxville. McWherter will counter with his small business experience and his endorsement from Governor Phil Bredesen, who flat out told Democrats at McWherter's victory celebration: "He (McWherter) can win and when he does win---he can govern the State of Tennessee."

What makes all this ironic is that there are a number of Democrats who say they are attracted to Haslam because he seems much like Bredesen (a successful mayor and businessman). So it will be Bredesen's job this fall to convince voters that they should "like Mike" more than Haslam, despite the resume similarities the Governor has with the Knoxville mayor.

McWherter is beginning his general election campaign in East Tennessee which seems kind of strange for a Democrat. But he says there are a lot of folks not happy with Bill Haslam and he wants to get their votes. One person who McWherter won't get are some of the leaders of the Tea Party movement in Tennessee who were interviewed Election Night by Channel 5. They said they consider both McWherter and Haslam to be liberals and will look among the independent for whom to vote.

The TV ads have already started for McWherter, (and all of them end with the phrase "endorsed by Governor Bredesen"). That includes two new 15 second spots, one of which seems to be an indirect attack on Haslam. It has the candidate saying it's simple. He will always support the folks filling up with gas on the way into work, not the guy who owns the oil company. Of course, Bill Haslam doesn't own an oil company, just a truck stop convenience store chain. But when I questioned McWherter about it on INSIDE POLITICS, he first seemed to deny the ad was a reference to Haslam, and then pointed out Pilot Oil gas-gouging problems in several states a few years ago after a hurricane in the Gulf.

One last comment on the GOP race, Zach Wamp may regret his remarks during his concession speech that "sometimes the best candidate doesn't win." I don't know what the soon to be former Congressman will be doing after he leaves office in January. He may stay in Washington. But if he wants to come back to Tennessee and be active in politics or state government, those words could haunt him, especially if Bill Haslam spends the next 4-8 years as governor.


By far this has been the most dramatic race of the Democratic primary with the candidates, one a Nashville political icon and 40-year veteran of the State Senate (Henry), the other a 33-year old attorney (Yarbro) who seemed poised to pull off the upset.

But when the votes were finally tallied (except for some provisional ballots), Henry held on to a 2-vote lead. Wow!

And now Friday matters become even more of a cliff-hanger with both the Davidson County Election Commission (ruling on the provisional ballots and any vote recount) and the State Democratic Party Executive Committee (on any challenge on who actually receives the party nomination) becoming the key players.

There are also "math question" (at least for now) being raised by Yarbro's attorney, Wally Dietz over what he says is a 20-vote discrepancy between a count of absentee ballots which was given to the Yarbro campaign and what was officially submitted to the Election Commission.

So what will the Election Commission do? Will any of the provisional ballots count? Will the Republican-controlled Commission allow a recount? What role, if any, will Nashville GOP Representative Beth Harwell play in this? As the only GOP member of the Davidson County House delegation she plays a major role in selecting a majority of the Commission and the members would certainly listen to any counsel she might give. She is also known to be close to Senator Henry, and over the years it has sometimes been rumored that she would be interested in running for the Senate seat one day.

Will the courts be asked to get involved? Will an appeal on who gets the nomination to the State Democratic Executive Committee? Does the name of former Senator Rosalyn Kurita come to mind? And what role might Governor Bredesen take, if any? You would think he would have some clout with the State Executive Committee, but then that group hired Chip Forrester as Party Chair over his objections.

Stay tuned.

This cliff-hanger race reminds me of another one coming out of West Nashville back in 1983. It was council race involving incumbent Ralph Cohen who on Election Night pulled out a 1-vote victory. That's right, one vote. It gave Cohen the enduring nickname of "Landslide."

Who lost that race? Attorney Nick Bailey, the same Nick Bailey who is now Senator Henry's campaign manager. My, the ironic and strange twists and turns of politics!



Everyone expected the 6th District GOP congressional primary to be close, but maybe not the squeaker State Senator Diane Black hung on and won. Businesswoman and party activist Lou Ann Zelenik clearly captured the anger of the voters in the district over mosques, immigration and other issues and almost rode it to victory. Despite being underfunded, State Senator Jim Tracy showed he did not fade down the stretch as he ended achieved a close third place finish, and probably ended any rumors that he would be strongly challenged in two years for re-election (unless Zelenik takes him on if Rutherford County remains in his Senate district.

But for now (Friday afternoon, August 6) neither Tracy not Zelenik are conceding to Black (according to THE TENNESSEAN) waiting to see what happens when provisional and military absentee ballots are counted, especially in an election with only a few hundred votes separating three candidates.

But as for the results so far, it seems to me (without having a long look at county and precinct breakdowns) that geography prevailed. While Tracy and Zelenik split the larger overall vote in the south part of the district (Rutherford and Bedford counties) Diane Black did well elsewhere especially to the north in the district where her Senate district lies.

The question for Black is (assuming her final small lead in the race holds up and is certified): Does she continue to pursue the Chancery Court lawsuit she and her husband's company filed claimed that an ad run by Zelenik defamed them? They attempted to get the ad taken off the air (which not surprisingly the courts denied). But now does she seek to pursue the legal case and seek damages? Does she really want to take time away from the general election campaign against Democratic challenger Brett Carter?

Black is a clear favorite at this point over the Nashville lawyer who is an Iraq War veteran, but do you want to stir up again all those charges made by Zelenik particularly at a time this fall when you seeking to get Ms. Zelenik former voters to rally to your side?

You might expect the suit just to be dropped now that the hard-fought primary is over. But there are reportedly very hard feelings about this, so perhaps a compromise move might be to seek a postponement of any court action until after the November vote.

8TH District

If you just watched Nashville TV the last few weeks, you would probably be very surprised to learn that Stephen Fincher won the GOP nomination to replace the retiring John Tanner as the congressional representative for this largely West Tennessee district.

Unlike his two main opponents, George Flinn and Ron Kirkland, Fincher did not engage very much in the TV air wars that they did against him and against each other. But despite being outspent many times over, Fincher won a remarkable vote of close to 50%. Why?

Fincher is a well known gospel singer and a farmer in a rural, agricultural area. Attacking him (as his opponents did) for taking federal farm subsidies only enraged his many farm supporters to get behind the Frog Jump, Tennessee resident. This is a great example of how some not-completely-well-thought out negative advertising can sometimes boomerang against the candidates who do it. Another example from this campaign comes from criticizing Fincher for voting in Democratic primaries, when for many years in those areas that has been only way people could vote (outside of the general election) if they want to help shape the selection of candidates.

Fincher is already reaching out to unify the Republicans in his district. He also has strong support from the Republican National Congressional Committee and is likely to have lots of money to run his general election race against the Democratic nominee, State Senator Roy Herron. Given that support, and Fincher's strong primary showing, there are those political observers who now tell me that Fincher could be Herron's worst nightmare, the candidate out of the primary field the hardest for Herron to run against.

Already Herron is jumping quickly into the general election mode starting a TV ad saying he will be as reliable in supporting the issues important to his constituents as his old pickup truck has been to him over the years. Shades of Fred Thompson!

5th District

Did incumbent Democratic congressman Jim Cooper dodge a bullet in the results of the 5th District Republican primary? Everyone was talking about his opponent being either businessman Jeff Hartline (who raised the most money) or attorney Ce Ce Heil (endorsed by Sarah Palin). Instead out of the blue the winner is David Hall, a little-known Goodlettsville small businessman who is a general contractor and electrician who operates David Hall Homes.

Republican leaders, who thought they had a chance to give Cooper a competitive race for the first time, are scratching their heads. They say they know nothing about their nominee (and I am not sure Cooper knows anything about him either). So will Hall be able to raise any money to build name recognition for the fall? That would be doubtful, although before Election Night it would have been highly doubtful to most folks that he would come out ahead in an 11 candidate field. But he did. In a strange political night in some ways, this was perhaps the strangest twist of all.

3rd District

Another surprising outcome was Ooltewah attorney and former Chattanooga talk show host Chuck Fleischmann defeating former GOP State Party Chair Robin Smith. She had been considered the odds-on-favorite to win the Republican nomination since Zach Wamp announced he was leaving to run for Governor.

Fleischman raised and gave himself plenty of money and some think that, along with his apparently effective last-minute attacks on some money problems while Smith was GOP State Chair, seemed to turn the race around late, despite Smith receiving the endorsement and help from the Club for Growth.

Fleischman got support from former GOP Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, whose campaign manager, Nashvillian Chip Saltsman, also ran Fleischman's race. This is another political feather in Chip's cap (along with while State Party Chair help George W. Bush carry Tennessee over Al Gore). Wins like these also make you a more desirable (and likely more expensive) political consultant and campaign manager. By the way, Chip got a quite a profile during the race. He and Robin Smith were often going toe to toe in the media during the final weeks.

Now the general election lies ahead where Fleischmann will be heavily favored to defeat John Wolfe who has previously run and lost races for Congress against Zach Wamp.

4th District

Democratic incumbent House member Lincoln Davis may have a race on his hands this fall. Dr. Scott Desjarlais seems to have the war chest and the personal finances to be able to compete in a sprawling district that involves four different television markets (including Huntsville, AL). Congressman Davis, for some reason, has never raised a large campaign fund over the years. Now he may need money and quickly. His district is very conservative (as is Davis, especially for Democrat) but the area has been trending Republican recently and in a year when incumbents also seem to be particularly endangered.


David Smith can breathe a bit easier now. He's been running for many months to be the city's new Juvenile Court Clerk. When he beat long time controversial incumbent Vic Lineweaver in May, to become the Democratic nominee, that is usually tantamount to being elected.

But this year, with so many voters entering the Republican primary, even in normally Democratic Nashville, to vote in the GOP gubernatorial race, things looked potentially dicey. Running as a Republican against Smith was long-time Bellevue Metro Councilman, Eric Crafton. Even though Crafton has been quite controversial during his political career (especially for pushing the failed English-Only referendum), there were many Republicans who were excited about the chance to elect the first GOP constitutional officer to go to the Metro Courthouse.

Local Democrats rallied and vowed to hold Crafton to less than 40%. That didn't happen, but Smith did win the race by about 10% points. Nevertheless, I'll bet local Republican leaders are very pleased to get one of their county candidates well above 40%. They also remain very optimistic that Metro Councilman Jim Gotto will take over a second GOP state house seat in the Nashville delegation when he faces off against fellow Councilman Sam Coleman in November to succeed retiring Democrat Ben West in a district that has been trending Republican in other races.


As Governor Bredesen approaches his final months in office, you know there are policy matters and other items he would love to get accomplished or wrapped up before he departs.

That is what crossed my mind when I received a news release from the Governor's office a couple of days ago. It announced that beginning this school year, for the first time there will be voluntary Pre-K programs operating in every school district in all 95 counties in the state. Sumner County and Washington County are the last to come on board.

No one in Tennessee has been a greater advocate for Pre-K than the Governor, and sometimes due to tight budgets and political opposition it hasn't been easy to make this a state-wide program, even though Tennessee now has one of the best, if not the best, Pre-K programs in the entire country.

Congratulations, Governor! Well done! It is great Tennessee can reach this statewide milestone before the end of your second and final term.