Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 29, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 29, 2010

CREATED Oct 29, 2010


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

October 29, 2010


It's our final INSIDE POLITICS show before the November 2 election.

Our guest this weekend (October 29-31) is Knoxville Mayor and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam.

We've been fortunate to have the two major candidates for our state's highest office appear with us four times this election cycle.

Mayor Haslam remarked on the air he has been on our program more than any other in the state, as both he and Democrat Mike McWherter were with us twice during the primary season, then the day after their primary victories in August, and now, on the final two weekends of the general election campaign.

We appreciate their willingness to come by and hope that everyone has enjoyed watching and listening in on our conversations the past several months.

When we decided to ask the two candidates to join us one last time, there was a question raised: how could we find some new and different topics to discuss? Well, that's been no problem. This is particularly true after Mayor Haslam's recent comments to a Nashville area gun group where he said if the Tennessee General Assembly ever passes a bill repealing the state's gun permit law (while he was governor), he would sign it.

This has created Haslam's first major misstep of the campaign, giving newspaper editorial writers and others in the media across the state the chance to question his wisdom, his political courage and his leadership skills.

When we spoke to Haslam earlier this week, he was still playing major damage control. He says the YouTube video carrying his remarks were part of a longer conversation where he tried to make it clear that he favors the current gun permit law and (now he says) he would try very hard to persuade lawmakers to never repeal the permit law.

The gun flap has also given Haslam's opponent Mike McWherter his first real opportunity to score some points with a last-minute TV attack ad blitz, although it's likely way too little and way too late to have much impact on the final outcome, which from all pundit and polling sources, appear to predict a blowout win for Haslam on Tuesday night. (more on that later)

But the gun issue is likely to hang around to some extent right up until Election Day and might hold down Haslam's margin of victory a couple of points, maybe. For example even after our Haslam interview, a new gun controversy cropped up. Haslam has said that he supports employees' having the right to bring their guns to work if they leave them locked in their cars. But then it was learned that Pilot Oil, Haslam's family business, has just the opposite policy. Haslam claims he is unaware of that, even though throughout the campaign, Haslam has constantly touted his ties and job-creating success with Pilot Oil as a major reason he should be elected the state's next governor.

Not surprisingly, particularly given how the media has stayed on the gun issue, Haslam admitted to me he is a bit frustrated, and during our interview, he also looked more than a little tired. And why shouldn't he be? He's been hard on the campaign trail for nearly two years now, not even slacking off in recent weeks when it has appeared the race is in the bag. Haslam says he remembers when he ran for Mayor of Knoxville the first time, and after being all but declared the winner weeks in advance, he won a squeaker on Election Night.

It's a good interview I think, as we do talk about a lot of other topics besides guns. I think it may give you some further insight into how he would act and react on a number of the major topics facing our state if he is elected our state's next governor.

As always, you can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network. That includes at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning (October 31) on the main channel (WTVF-TV, Channel 5) as well as on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Our PLUS shows are on Comcast and Charter cable channels 250 as well as Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel, 5.2. Our PLUS show times are 7:00 p.m. Friday (October 29); Saturday (October 30) at 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m.; and on Sunday at 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.            


If you want wall-to-wall election coverage Tuesday night, NewsChannel5 will, as always, be the best place to be. From the moment the polls close, we are on the air from 7:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. tallying and analyzing the results on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS.

We will also be doing some cut-ins on the main channel as well as providing results at the bottom of the screen there throughout the night. CBS has an hour long program looking at the mid-term election results nationwide that will air on Channel 5 from 9:00 p.m. until we start the 10 p.m. news.

If you are out of the Nashville area or you don't have access to cable, our election show on the PLUS will be available on line with live streaming video at www.newschannel5.com.

So join Rhori Johnston and myself along with the rest of the NewsChannel5 team for the best local TV election coverage in this area. That includes live reports from Haslam's election party in Knoxville and McWherter's election gathering in Jackson. We will also be live from the State Party gatherings at the Union Station (GOP) and the Loews Vanderbilt Plaza (Democrats) here in Nashville.      



If the projections from the various pundits and political web sites are close to being accurate, the governor's race could be over and called for Haslam early Tuesday night.

THE NEW YORK TIMES' FiveThirtyEight political blog site, updated daily, put Haslam's chances of winning on October 29 (Friday) at 99.5% "based on 100,000 simulations with random variation in the local and national political environment." Yikes!

Actually the projections were worse for McWherter the day before (Thursday) with Haslam's chances to win then at 99.9% with the projected election results being 58.8% Haslam to 37.9% McWherter. Perhaps as a sign of the impact of Haslam's gun comments, the NYT blog now projects election night vote percentages as 57% Haslam to 39% McWherter. Some change, but not much, and certainly not nearly enough to change the landslide outcome that seems to be on the way.

You can see the same slight movement in the race on the electionprojection.com web site operated by pundit Scott Elliot. On Thursday, he projected Haslam to prevail with a victory margin of nearly 30% (29.5%). On Friday, those numbers were adjusted down to 28%. Again, there is some movement, but no big change. Those pundits who aren't doing projected percentages or numbers also still place the race as solid or safe Republican (The Cook Report, Larry Sabato and others).

It looks overall like a red night in Tennessee, similar to 1994 when the GOP picked up two U.S. Senate seats, two congressional seats and the governor's chair. This time the sweep will be even more complete over the Democrats as in addition to taking back the governor's office, they will hold or even add to their majorities in both houses of the General Assembly and they could take three congressional seats, going from a 5-4 Democratic majority to a 7-2 GOP edge, with only the House seats in Nashville and Memphis staying blue. And with redistricting on the horizon for the new General Assembly, Democrats could be in a minority status in this state for some time to come.   

Looking at the pundit and political blog site projections for the congressional races:

Electionprojection.com has Republican State Senator Diane Black winning the 6th District (that's the retiring Democrat Bart Gordon's seat) by 12.3% margin, while GOP farmer and gospel singer Steven Fincher takes over the 8th District (from the retiring Democrat John Tanner) with an 11.6% difference.

The FiveThirtyEight forecasts from THE NEW YORK TIMES blog show Diane Black with a 97% chance of winning the 6th District with a projected margin of victory of 57% to 41% over her Democratic opponent, Brett Carter. The numbers from FiveThirtyEight are equally grim for the Democrats in 8th District with Steven Fincher having a 95.1% likelihood of victory with projected results of 56% for Fincher and just 42% for his Democratic opponent, State Senator Roy Herron.

If you are looking for a close congressional race, your best (and maybe only choice in Tennessee) will be in the 4th District where incumbent Democrat Lincoln Davis is facing an increasingly tough fight. FiveThirtyEight projects GOP nominee Dr. Scott DesJarlais with a 74.2% chance of coming out on top over Davis with projected election results of DeJarlais with 51% of the vote to Davis 46%.  But the news is somewhat better for the incumbent from electionprojection.com which shows DesJarlais prevailing with only a 3.3% margin. But Thursday, the projected margin had been 2%.

Maybe that's why this race remains so bitterly fought, especially over the TV airwaves where (as we speculated last week) outside groups have come in to rescue (DesJarlais was all but broke) spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to air TV spots attacking Davis for his alleged liberal record in Washington and for his attacks against DesJarlais concerning a messy divorce matter from a few years ago.

DesJarlais also has received additional support from national Republican House leaders who (as again we mentioned last week) have come to the district to campaign and raise money for him, while DesJarlais also got  late endorsements from likely GOP 2012 presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.  

So with both sides having lots of party support and amble war chests left, that's why you will continue to see and hear TV spots about people putting guns in their mouth (Davis regarding DesJarlais) and the other candidate saying "shame on you" (DesJarlais to Davis in his final spot). In one of his final ads, Davis is trying to make part of his ad a bit more positive, touting domestic violence legislation he's passed while in Congress, but the ad is still done in the context of talking about the issues surrounding DesJarlais' divorce case.  

Congressman Davis also spent the final days attacking DesJarlais for ducking out of a planned debate at the last moment (an issue that has occurred in several Tennessee congressional districts this cycle, with each time the GOP candidate ducking out).

It's all not exactly the highest level of political discourse, but, I guess we will see who has been the most effective come Election Night.

One other congressional note, the Cook Political Report has changed its outlook slightly for the 5th District Congressional race here in Nashville. It's now seen as Likely Democrat for incumbent Jim cooper to win re-election after earlier being rated Strong Democrat. So, with Tea Party favorite, Sarah Palin now giving a late endorsement (and a $5,000 contribution) to David Hall, the GOP candidate, is Cooper in trouble?

Probably not, although as we have said before, in this GOP year in Tennessee and across the country, Congressman Cooper is likely in for the toughest re-election race he's had since he was elected from this district in 2002. But this is historically one of the strongest Democrat districts in the county, and the NYT's FiveThirtyEight forecast still projects Cooper with a 99.6% change of winning with projected election results of 61 % for Cooper to 37% for Hall.

Those are still very strong numbers, just not as strong as they have been in recent years. And some Republican sources insist it will be a much closer vote than expected Tuesday night. Congressman Cooper himself is taking no chances, even having other local elected officials such as State Senator Joe Haynes send out letters to constituents and friends, urging them to vote for Cooper, something which I don't remember happening in previous Cooper campaigns. But you could see still more of it come 2012 when who knows what the district will look like after the GOP-dominated General Assembly redraws the lines.



Along with the races we've already discussed, here are a couple of others to pay attention to Election Night:

Will the GOP wave across the state take out Democratic House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh? More than one source tells me that Naifeh is in danger of losing his home country (Tipton) and if he doesn't rally or do well in Haywood County next door, he could be upset and ousted from office. 

And then there are several races in Nashville to watch. That includes Nashville Democrat Mike Turner, who is Democratic House Caucus Chair (Number Two in party leadership). From several sources I hear a late poll shows him down one point. This is somewhat ironic since Turner's Republican opponent, Charles Williamson, actually asked the State GOP to quit sending mail pieces into the district that attack Turner. But the party has declined to do so, and, if this late poll is anywhere close to being accurate, maybe that's why the state GOP hasn't let up.

Late mail outs to attack your opponent are very common in close elections. That apparently includes the State House District 60 race where two Metro Council members Sam Coleman (Democrat) and Jim Gotto (Republican) are vying to take the place of long time retiring Democratic House member Ben West. Given the voting trends in the district in recent years, Republicans have thought this is a great opportunity to capture the seat. But recent reports from my sources and from THE TENNESSEE JOURAL, rate the race as leaning Democratic.

That leads to this on-line article from THE TENNESSEAN and reporter Michael Cass (October 26). It relates Metro Council members chuckling to themselves over "a Republican flier attacking …Coleman…for going on a taxpayer funded trip to the National League of Cities (to Florida)."

It's true, but so did another councilman and fellow Republican House candidate Duane Dominy (running against incumbent Democrat Sherry Jones). So are Gotto and the GOP ready to send out the same flyer in Dominy's legislative district and criticize him for taking the same trip as Coleman? Not likely.

One other person who will be looking very closely at all the State House race results is Nashville GOP Representative Beth Harwell. Through her own Political Action Committee she has donated over $250,000 to various Republican State House candidates across the state. She hopes those turn into political IOUs when she seeks to become the next Speaker of the House in Tennessee and the first woman to ever hold that position. She is considered one of the favorites for that spot, but she will be opposed by Franklin Representative Glen Casada (the House GOP Caucus Chair) along with others possibly including Harry Brooks of Knoxville, Judd Matheny from Tullahoma and Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.  






That's the final early vote tally after the balloting ended statewide Thursday.

That number frankly is a little low to me. Indeed if early voting represents 40%-50% of the total vote, we are going to have to go some Election Day to even match the turnout for the last governor's race (which was about 1.8 million).

That 2006 contest saw Phil Bredesen re-elected with an overwhelming record percentage of the vote at close to 80% and carrying a majority in all 95 counties.

Based on the early vote it does not appear voters are more excited about casting ballots in an open-seat race as compared to a re-election contest.

But if the overall vote is down, who is voting and who is staying home? Will the stay-at-homes be disinterested Democrats similar to what we hear is happening across the country? I am sure there will be some of that although the top two Democrat counties in Tennessee, Davidson (Nashville) and Shelby (Memphis), also have the most overall early voters: 109,680 for Shelby and 72,331 for Davidson.

Surely the angry voter is coming out, at least based on most of the polling so far and that would favor the GOP. Overall, looking at the early voting, most of it is concentrated in only about 16 of the 95 counties.

Only 16 counties had more than 10,000 early voters, with those 16 counties totaling 621,129 of the overall 734,076 votes cast. This would clearly indicate that while candidates still brag about campaigning in all 95 counties in the state, you can likely win a statewide by going to just these 16 (although you'd likely tick off everybody else).

And who are these 16 counties?

Shelby 109,680

Davidson 72,331

Knox 56,392

Rutherford 29,952

Williamson 27,766

Hamilton 27,332

Sullivan 20,821

Montgomery 15,718

Sumner 15,589

Wilson 14,994

 Madison 14,022

Maury 12,485

Washington 11,638

Cumberland 11,391

Bradley 11,121

Blount 10,195

 If you know anything about Tennessee politics along with political loyalties by county and grand division of the state, this looks like a very Republican list, even with Nashville and Memphis at the top.

Just another possible bad omen for Democrats for Tuesday


A recent Bill Haslam TV ad says this is the political "silly season."

He's right, especially when the attack ads fly back and forth.

But these final TV spots are often critical to campaigns as their closing arguments for why they should win the election.

Not surprisingly, given his huge amount of resources and the large number of TV ads he's produced and aired since last February, the Bill Haslam campaign seems to be running several closing spots. One features a variety of voters praising Haslam for what a great man he is and how qualified he is to be governor. Diane Black is doing something very similar in her 6th District congressional race. The Haslam ad closes with a lady who looks directly into the camera and with a wonderful, rich Tennessee accent says; "Bill Haslam will be one of the greatest Governors Tennessee has ever had." Wow! No aiming low here, no "he will be a good or great governor", just "one of the greatest ever." No pressure, Mayor.

Haslam has another spot that has a little irony in it. He thanks everyone for talking and greeting him when he knocked on their doors while campaigning. He closes the spot by directly asking for every one's vote, something that is obviously very important, but which so few politicians remember to do or say in their ads or speeches. But shouldn't candidates, particularly ones like Haslam, thank voters for watching and listening to their TV ads when those messages have come into their homes. After all, many more voters have seen these ads than will ever greet him at a front door.

Another piece of irony for Haslam in this very same final ad has him saying that he's really wanted to run for Governor so he can help create jobs as he's done with Pilot and being mayor. Good points and ones he's likely been so frustrated about being able to get to say much about on the campaign trail, answering all these gun questions. There is also irony in another final Haslam ad where it displays quite a list on the TV screen of all the newspapers and other groups who have endorsed him. That includes a couple of the papers which have sharply criticized him in recent days about this gun permit controversy.  

But finally, one of the last Haslam ads makes a great closing statement for his entire campaign when the announcer says: "Bill Haslam: To really know him is to trust him."

Now you can likely get involved in a good argument about how well you can "really know a candidate" during a campaign. But clearly the purpose of all these TV ads by the Haslam folks (and maybe only Bob Corker has ever run more spots in a Tennessee political campaign) has been to build a sense of knowing and "trusting" Bill Haslam. Based on the polls, it seems to have worked.

We'll find out for sure Tuesday night.