Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 13, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 13, 2010

CREATED Aug 13, 2010

August 13, 2010


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


I can't think of three political writers in Tennessee any better than the ones I have as guests this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS. They include Tom Humphrey, the dean of the Capitol Hill Press Corps from THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, Clint Brewer, the new Political Editor at THE TENNESSEAN, and Ken Whitehouse from NASHVILLEPOST.COM.

We look ahead at the fall campaigns just getting started, while also discussing a couple of races still not completely decided in one way or another (Henry-Yarbro, the Sixth Congressional district GOP primary). It is a great discussion and you can catch it several times this weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast and Charter Cable channels 250 and NewsChannel5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

Our air times are 7 p.m. Friday, 5 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Saturday (August 14) and 5 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday (August 15).

Let me take a moment to thank everyone for all their kind remarks about our election coverage on August 5. The one that really struck me I received from a Facebook friend that read:

"It wasn't easy, but I managed to watch your election night coverage, live, from China. Thanks to you and Internet!"


We went international!

I am big political junkie, but I am not sure I would have tried to follow the races from all the way around the world! And I can only wonder what the Chinese censors thought about our crazy election night (and you know they were ease-dropping in). I just appreciate anybody and everyone being interested and dedicated to watching us. Thanks!


Many of these comments will mirror the topics we discuss on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend, so this will give you a little flavor about the show.


As GOP gubernatorial nominee and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam said in an e-mail to his supporters on Friday (August 13): "No Time to Let Up."

Both candidates (including Democratic nominee and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter) are already working hard out on the trail across the state (and in the media). McWherter has added a new TV ad (another :15 spot). This one touts that he would veto any bill establishing a state income tax (although given the current political climate, how such a measure would ever get though the General Assembly only God knows). The ad also restates one of McWherter's campaign themes to provide tax incentives to Tennessee businesses that create new jobs, something which Haslam says is too expensive for the state to try to do right now.

McWherter has been all by himself on the air for the last week or so, (at least in the governor's race) although Haslam has his first new general election ad coming out tomorrow (Saturday) with a special debut in cyberspace for his fans on his Facebook page. But don't worry if you are not on FB, based on his ad buy levels in the primary, I am sure you will see it on the air lots of times and very soon. It also appears clear to me that Haslam is not repeating the mistake Senator Bob Corker made in 2006, when he went dark for several weeks after the primary and lost his momentum.

Stepping up his TV ad presence is probably a good thing for McWherter. He needs it. What amounts to a baseline poll for the general election conducted by the Rasmussen national polling firm shows Haslam up 25% points over the Democrat (56% to 31%) and all the other results and tabs from the poll look equally bleak for the Democrats.

The consensus on our INSIDE POLITICS panel is that the Haslam lead may not be quite as big in reality as it appears in the Rasmussen poll, but the Knoxville Mayor is a significant favorite going into the fall, even if Mike McWherter managed to narrow the gap some in the next few weeks. Narrowing it from a 6-lane highway to a 5-lane highway says one of our political writers (Ken Whitehouse).

Then there's the debate issue. After appearing with McWherter and all his GOP opponents many times on the campaign trail over the past year in what were called "forums," "town hall meetings", even "debates", Haslam is now cutting back on those appearances, at least if they are called debates. He now plans to only do three with McWherter, between now and November

Why the change? Simple, Haslam is ahead. Appearing over and over again on the same stage as your opponent, not only gives you more chances to flub up (and usually on live statewide TV), it also gives added stature to your opponent to appear on the same stage frequently. Now Haslam is not an incumbent, but he can probably act a little bit like one in this area due to his lead in the polls. Sure, the McWherter campaign is going to issue caustic news releases criticizing Haslam for not doing more debates but I suspect he might do the same thing if the poll numbers were reversed.


Looking over the state map, you will see some interesting results. Haslam was dominant, carrying 76 of the 95 counties. Zach Wamp carried 14 counties, but lost several in his own Third Congressional district and carried even his own county (Hamilton) by a less than overwhelming margin, particularly as compared to how Mayor Haslam did in Knoxville.

Maybe that continues to help explain why Zack Wamp continues to act like something of a poor loser. After saying election night: "Sometimes the best candidate doesn't win," he followed that up with a photo taken at the GOP unity rally when he lost like he'd lost his last friend and wouldn't smile or look at Mayor Haslam in shaking his hand. Finally, Wamp sent out an e-mail to his supporters thanking them for their help, but noticeably failing to mention anything about congratulating his opponents or pledging his support to Haslam.

The other GOP candidate, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey has been quite gracious in his loss. He carried only four counties, most of them in his base area of Upper East Tennessee. But one he didn't carry in that area was Carter County, the home of House Speaker Kent Williams, who has been feuding with Ramsey for months now. Carter County turned to be a tie between Ramsey and Haslam. As Clint Brewer said on INSIDE POLITICS: "I guess being a Carter County Republican still means something." LOL


When last we posted this column, Senator Doug Henry, a 40-year veteran and Nashville political icon, had a mere 2 vote lead over 33-year old attorney Jeff Yarbro with 2 provisional votes still to be verified and counted.

That's what happened and they both were for Yarbro. So is it a tie. No, Henry is back up 13 votes, after another unannounced recount by the Metro Election Commission. This is the third vote tally in the race with 3 different numerical outcomes. So it is not surprising that Yarbro is now asking the State Democratic Executive Committee and the Election Commission to do an expedited (and hopefully final) recount of the votes. Both sides have been very cordial in this matter (as the Yarbro camp says it is more about math, not politics). So with the Henry campaign seemingly OK about an expedited re-count, perhaps by sometime this coming week (week of August 16), this matter can finally be decided

The consensus on our INSIDE POLITICS panel seem to be that expedited recount request is more Yarbro showing his supporters that he is "dotting all the eyes and crossing all the Ts" to seek victory, rather than this being the first step towards formally contesting the race if the recounted numbers don't make him the winner. But stay tuned…will a fourth recount, yield a fourth different vote tally?


It is well over a week since the August 5 vote and second-place challenger, Lou Ann Zelenik will not concede defeat to State Senator Diane Black. Black is just a few hundred votes ahead of both her and third place finisher, State Senator Jim Tracy. Tracy has conceded, although he left open the door to retract that if more votes or a recount show something different.

Meantime, Black and Zelenik remain locked in a bitter court battle over the TV ads Zelenik ran against Black and her husband's company which does drug testing business with the state. Black says those ads are defamatory and she tried to get them removed from the air. That didn't happen, but now the legal issues threaten to continue to dominate the coming fall election.

Another very interesting possible development could be rumors that Zelenik may try to mount a write-campaign to win the congressional seat in November. Can you say goodbye to any semblance of GOP party unity in this race this fall? State party leaders might try to get everyone to come together and play nicely. But that looks like a long shot right now and might backfire and cause more problems if that was attempted.

Gaining the advantage out of all this is the Democratic Sixth District congressional nominee Brett Carter. The Iraq War veteran can take the high road here and talk about the issues, while his GOP opponents slug it out in court and in the media. Given his underdog and underfunded status in the race to succeed retiring Democratic Congressman Bart Gordon, this GOP fight could be his party's best chance to keep this seat on the blue side in November. It could also be the best way for the Republicans to blow an opportunity to lose what appeared to be a nearly slam dunk chance to pick up a congressional seat.


While the GOP candidates in the Eighth Congressional race went after each other tooth and nail in the nastiest, more expensive primary in the country, they all now seem to be united behind the winner, farmer and gospel singer Stephen Fincher.

But that hasn't completely ended the political brickbats being thrown. The National Republican Congressional Committee has been criticizing Democratic nominee State Senator Roy Herron almost daily for his new TV ad with a pickup truck and just about anything else they can think of from his record.

Herron's folks are firing back in an e-mail trying to raise money for the campaign. They say his record is being distorted and that an outside seniors group running ads against him in the district (60-Plus) "opposes AARP" and is "a longtime advocate for privatizing Social Security." This is going to be another rough and tumble campaign this fall as the GOP sees another opportunity to pick up a congressional seat while the Democrats believe Herron is the type of candidate who can win in this largely rural district.


It is the consensus of our INSIDE POLITICS panel that both Fifth District Congressman Nashville Democrat Jim Cooper and Fourth District Congressman Democrat Lincoln Davis are favorites to hold their seat this fall. However this does appear to be a Republican year in Tennessee and across the nation, so winning re-election won't be easy.

There is still a lot of puzzlement in the political community about how David Hall, a Goodlettsville businessman and contractor, came out of nowhere to win the GOP nomination to oppose Cooper. After talking to some sources, I have a theory.

What I have learned (and in some cases been reminded) is that Hall ran against long time State Senator Joe Haynes in 2008. He lost, but got 42% of the vote (and that was in a strong Democratic year). My theory (and I have not checked the precinct results to prove it) is that Hall was able to keep enough of his 2008 organization and voters in his corner for the 2010 race (he got strong support from home school advocates for instance). And in an eleven-person field, all that gave him the base he needed to win as the other candidates split up the rest of the district.

What can he do against Cooper? It will likely be a tough go, especially if the inquiries Hall faces from the Federal Election Commission about his campaign financing prove serious. But still there is a lot of anger out there among voters against any and all incumbents, and so some local Republicans are ready to give Hall contributions to try and make him competitive. Whether enough folks will do that is still very debatable, but it will likely all add up to Cooper have his toughest re-election ever.

The same may be true for Congressman Davis. It will be difficult for his GOP opponent Dr. Scott Desjarlais to get the money he needs to build name recognition across the sprawling Fourth District. But Congressman Davis isn't exactly loaded with campaign funds himself, especially for an incumbent. That plus the anti-incumbent frenzy could make the race more competitive than he might like. Remember, if Democrats nationally were not running scared about November they would not have summoned both House and Senate members to come back to D.C. during the August to pass new "protect the borders" legislation as well as the recent government bailout funds to help states keep from laying off teachers and other employees. I agree with Governor Phil Bredesen. Tennessee has done a good job running the state without resorting to layoffs. For other states to be, in a sense rewarded for not keeping their budgets balanced, while Tennessee gets none of these new funds, is a real disgrace.


As we continue to approach the end of the Bredesen administration, key personnel changes continue to occur. Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens leaves to join the McWherter campaign, replaced by longtime Assistant Commissioner Terry Oliver.

There is also about to be a new Deputy Governor, as Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely comes over to replace John Morgan who is set to become the next Chancellor of the State Board of Regents. This change could get politically bumpy. Nobody is complaining about Nicely, who has done a great job, first in turning around TDOT over the last eight years, as well as getting the scandal-prone State Highway Patrol at least out of the daily news headlines as it was a few years back. Nicely also served as Bredesen's top aide before when he was Mayor of Nashville, so there is a good strong relationship that should serve well in these final days of the Governor's administration. (Full disclosure: Gerald Nicely is a former long time client of mine when he was Executive Director of Metropolitan Development & Housing Agency).

No, the problem with this change near the top in the Governor's office involves John Morgan and the job he is ready to accept. GOP Senators are raising questions (and calling for hearings) about why Morgan was hired for a post that usually goes to someone who holds a doctorate degree and there is concern about Morgan's salary in the post which is reportedly $80,000 more than it has been.

This looks like something that could get sticky.