Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 20, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 20, 2010

CREATED Aug 20, 2010


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

August 20, 2010


Just a few weeks into his general election campaign for governor, it is pretty clear that the Republican candidate, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and his campaign have a lot of chutzpah.

Chutzpah: That's a Yiddish term that means audacity, unbelievable gall (at least according to an on-line definition on Google).

Even with a 25-point lead in the latest poll (Rasmussen), Haslam is clearly not coasting. His first TV ad of the fall campaign tries to compare his future leadership as governor to what Tennessee has enjoyed in the past, including current Governor Phil Bredesen and former Governor Ned McWherter (1988-2003).

What's the problem with that?

Nothing, except both are Democrats! And, oh by the way, former Governor McWherter is the father of Haslam's opponent, Democrat Mike McWherter. As for Governor Bredesen, he has strongly endorsed the younger McWherter as the best person to take his place next January.

Taking your opponent's two strongest supporters and trying to use them as a promotional prop in your own TV ad is nothing less than some major political moxie or chutzpah of the highest order.

Of course, meeting with reporters, Haslam is just "aw, shucks" as usual about it. He admits what he is doing is "different" (you think?) and that there was a lot of discussion around the table when the idea to feature McWherter and Bredesen in an ad came up during a campaign brainstorming session.

The ad is also very interesting for who it doesn't mention on the Republican side. While former GOP governor and current U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander is mentioned along with his Senate colleague Bob Corker, there is not a word about the most recent Republican to hold the Tennessee Governor's chair, Don Sundquist.

Sundquist has been anathema, especially in GOP circles, since he began his second term in 1999 and quickly became a strong supporter of a state income tax. So do I really need to explain why Sundquist wasn't in the ad? I don't think so, although believe it or not, Mayor Haslam told reporters that the only reason Sundquist wasn't in the ad was "lack of space (time)." Yeah, right!

Haslam also mentioned that he left out former Senator Howard Baker (who is the honorary chair of his campaign) along with other former Tennessee Republican Senators Fred Thompson, Bill Frist and Bill Brock. All of that is true, and surely there is not enough time to mention them all in a TV ad. But I am not sure his explanation about Sundquist is really completely accurate or fully truthful.

Haslam added "you could play that game forever" as to who could be mentioned. That is true. But while we would all understand (especially Democrats) leaving out our scandal-tainted Governor Ray Blanton (1975-1979), what about the first Republican Governor in modern Tennessee history, Winfield Dunn (1971-1975)? Why was he left out? Wouldn't he fit better in the Corker ad than mixing in Senator Corker, the only non-Governor mentioned in the ad? I wonder if who polls well these days had something to do with it?

Oh well, at least it gives us something to talk about in these weeks right after the primary when the elections usually get a little boring up until Labor Day.

As for the McWherter campaign, it so far seems to be stumbling around to find some way to effectively respond to the ad. Saying that Haslam is just trying to "hijack" the legacies of both Governors McWherter and Bredesen doesn't seem to be much of a retort, nor does saying Haslam is doing it to hide his own family's one-time support of a state income tax. So what? There was a time during his second term when Governor McWherter seemed to support such a tax.

So thus far with the new ad, it seems to be (once again) advantage Haslam. Chutzpah


By the way, Bill Haslam is not just trying to leverage the leadership of past governors. He is also trying to leverage the new endorsement of a three-time, Winston Cup Race Car Champion, Darrell Waltrip of Franklin, who just came on board the Haslam team.

And the endorsement seems particularly well-timed as Haslam is set to be the Grand Marshal of the Food City 250 on Saturday, August 25 as tens of thousands of Tennessee race car fans and others crowd into the Bristol Motor Speedway for the big event. On the way, or as they leave, they will also likely see a new Haslam TV ad which promotes the support of DW for the GOP candidate.


Maybe it will happen next week (the week of August 23). The primary contests for the 21st District Democratic State Senate battle and the 6th District GOP Congressional race may finally come to some resolution.

The Elections Commissions in both Davidson & the counties in the 6th District are due to certify their results early next week (w/o August 23). Democrat Jeff Yarbro has indicated he plans to ask the State Democratic Executive Committee to seek a recount of his 11-vote deficit against long-time incumbent Doug Henry in the 21st District. It sure makes sense for Yarbro to ask. Even the Henry campaign says it has no objections in what has been the most politically, civil and pleasant very closely-contested race I have ever seen.

Another (and hopefully final) count in this Senate 21st District race makes sense. The Davidson County Election Commission has already issued four counts of what was supposed to be the final numbers. They have said it was Yarbro up 18, then Henry up 2, then Henry up 13, then Henry up 11. We've had power failures, hand recounts, machine recount, you name it. Particularly concerning was the fourth recount. Election officials announced this time they had found an entire voting machine they had neglected to include in its earlier vote tallies.

Yikes! I know this has been more about math issues not politics, but misplacing, then finding, an entire voting machine? The entire vote counting process in this race sure seems to offer a lot of "learning opportunities" for the Metro Election Commission going forward for November and then beyond to the Metro election next year. I just feel bad for Metro Elections Director Ray Barrett for this to happen as he is closing out his career.

Meantime, assuming the State Democratic Executive Committee approves yet one more recount by the local Election Commission, who knows what to expect? Although most observers still believe Henry's narrow margin will prevail, absent several more unknown voting machines surfacing.

I mentioned this some time ago, today (Friday August 20) the Downtown Kiwanis made a special award presentation to Senator Henry. When it was announced no one knew for sure if it would be a consolation prize at the end of a long and successful political campaign, or something of a reward for winning a tough primary fight. We still don't know, but my reports were that it was a wonderful ceremony which left the Senator himself somewhat overwhelmed.

As for the 6th District GOP congressional fight (and I do mean fight), the voting numbers about to be certified appear to give State Senator Diane Black a victory of just over 200 votes against political activist Lou Ann Zelenik. But Zelenik has still not conceded. She told supporters in an e-mail: "It's not looking good….but I'm leaving the door open for change. I wish the vote count was different but we're moving on."

Well, maybe she is. But Zelenik also told her supporters: "With county certification nearing completion, and assuming the vote margins remain the same, I congratulate Diane Black on her victory. Sadly, with the filing of a lawsuit by Diane's husband I have the responsibility to answer their claim. We have asked for dismissal but to no avail and we are proceeding with disclosure."

So what does that mean for the November election against the Democrats and their candidate Iraq War vet Brett Carter? Zelenik told the DAILY NEWS JOURNAL in Murfreesboro (August 18): "It is very hard to endorse someone who is suing you."

What about running against her as a write-in candidate, which continues to be rumored?

All this is happening as NBC News now rates the 6th District open seat (Democrat Bart Gordon is retiring) as the number one best shot in the nation for the Republicans to pick up a congressional seat. I agree that the flip of that seat is very likely. But watch that lawsuit, and especially watch any serious write-in effort by Zelenik if it comes to fruition.


Another open Tennessee congressional seat that NBC News is projecting to go to the Republicans is the 8th District. That's where Republican candidate, farmer and gospel singer Stephen Fincher has released his own poll showing him up 10 points over the Democratic candidate, State Senator Roy Herron. NBC says "Republicans will pull out all the stops for this race." That's true but Democrats believe Herron will be well financed and has a decent chance to hold on to the seat for his party.

The right-leaning Club For Growth is now endorsing Fincher, which could give him some more money for the fall…and maybe (given the Club's track record) some more hard-hitting attack ads against Herron. But the Club may have to change its luck in Tennessee. It endorsed the favored Robin Smith in the 3rd District GOP congressional race, but she didn't make it out of the primary.

Fincher is not taking any chances about responding to attacks that he is in favor of privatizing Social Security. He has issued a statement he has made "a solemn vow to our seniors….I stand firmly against privatizing Social Security and have never advocated such a scheme." And so it both begins and continues as this race heats up.

In another Tennessee congressional race, the 5th District in the Nashville area, NBC seems to think incumbent Jim Cooper "could be in trouble" against political unknown David Hall because "the RNC (Republican National Committee) is targeting him" and because "the Professional Left" isn't "happy with Cooper's Blue Dog ways." Adds the NBC article: "If they can convince enough Yellow Dogs to stay home Cooper could be in trouble (remember Harold Ford, Jr?)."

Here, I pretty strongly disagree. I think Cooper has mended his fences with the Left and I am not sure Harold Ford's loss had all that much to do with Yellow Dogs staying home.

As for incumbent Lincoln Davis in the 4th District, NBC says he could face "a strong challenge from Republican Dr. Scott DesJarlais based largely on the greater GOP turnout in the primary (I guess they didn't hear about the Tennessee GOP governor's race being the main factor in that). NBC also adds about Congressman Davis even if he win re-election:: "He will have to officially change parties if he wants to keep his seat after the TN GOP gets done redistricting Democrats out of business in TN-4." On that, they may be right. By the way, the highly respected COOK REPORT has moved the 4th District race from "Likely Democrat" to "Lean Democrat." That's just one step from "Tossup," so GOP leaders are excited.

Some final notes on Tennessee congressional races, here's a very "left-handed" compliment from NBC for 7th District Congressman Marsha Blackburn" "Despite being on board the Crazy Train, Rep. Marsha Blackburn will crush Democratic challenger Greg Rabidoux." As for the 3rd District seat being vacated by Zach Wamp who lost his race for Governor, NBC sees the race going Republican for Chuck Fleischmann "over sacrificial Democrat John Wolfe." That's likely true, although the longer it takes defeated GOP candidate Robin Smith to get over her loss, the more it hurts the Republicans to be as united as they need to be for November.

We plan to do several INSIDE POLITICS shows about these congressional races, including the 7th District race between Blackburn and Rabidoux next weekend (August 27-29).


I told you last week that the hiring of former Deputy Governor John Morgan to be the next Chancellor of the State Board of Regents was one to watch. And the controversy indeed continues to grow, even as Morgan has announced he is willing to forgo a huge pay hike and is willing to get by on the $300,000- plus salary the previous Regents Chancellor has made.

But GOP State Senators have other issues they still want to pursue. Those include why Morgan seemed to be about the only person qualified under the rules of the search to be able to apply for the post, and why the job qualifications were changed to no longer require the Chancellor to hold an advanced doctoral degree?

Legislative hearings either in September or October (which you will note are before the elections) are being talked about to get answers to those questions. Meantime, why are Governor Bredesen, or those who seek his job being so quiet on this matter?

Senator Bill Ketron is not being quiet. He joins us on INSIDE POLITICS this week along with the newly appointed TBR Chancellor John Morgan and the Vice Chair of the TBR, Nashville attorney Bob Thomas.

It is a very interesting conversation with all of them. Senator Ketron now seems to be saying he has information which shows the current TBR membership is in violation of state law for how it must be divided up among Republican and Democratic appointees. He also indicates he sees possible legislation to change that in the next General Assembly which would remove some sitting TRB members (maybe from 3-6 people).

Man, won't that stir up some more controversy next session!

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times this weekend of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, which is broadcast on Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 as well as Channel5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Our air times are Friday (August 20) at 7 p.m., Saturday at 5 a.m. and 5:30 p.m and Sunday at 5 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

If you don't have cable or an over the air digital TV, excerpts of the show (and previous INSIDE POLITICS shows) can be found at www.newschannel5.com.