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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 27, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 27, 2012

CREATED Jan 27, 2012

CAPITOL VIEW

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

January 27, 2012

MORE WACKY IN THE GOP PRESIDENTIAL RACE; OBAMA'S STATE OF THE UNION OPPORTUNITY; DR. RICHARD LAND & HAPPY DAYS ON INSIDE POLITICS; REDISTRICTING FALLOUT; DECISION TIME NEARS; HAPPY BIRTHDAY

It's been just another wild and wacky week on the Presidential campaign trail.

After looking to be down for the count (again), Newt Gingrich rallied on the strength of two more strong debate showings to blow out Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary (January 21) and put at least a dent (if not a roadblock) into Romney's still-anticipated drive to the Republican nomination.

With the next primary vote in Florida lying just ahead (January 31), Romney has been scrambling to pick up the pieces. Even after months of building an organization and a positive image in Florida through numerous campaign appearances and spending lots of money building organization and running TV ads, the Romney team got another shock when early polls following his South Caroline debacle, found his advantage in Florida had vanished as well. In fact, the results showed Gingrich even, if not leaping ahead.

But nothing ever seems to stay the same for very long this campaign cycle, and by the end of the week (January 26) the latest Rasmussen poll showed Romney bouncing back into the lead in the Sunshine State with 39% of the expected vote, Gingrich 31% and the other two remaining GOP candidates, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul at 12% and 9%, respectively. Similar polls confirmed the same candidate movement in Romney's favor.

On a national level, the latest Rasmussen numbers (mirrored by the results of a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll) still reflect a Gingrich surge with the former House Speaker at 35%, Romney at 28%, Santorum 16% and Paul, 10%. So, given all these numbers, is it more or less down to a two-person race? Could be, but both Santorum and Paul vow to continue on and another Rasmussen poll result found 33% of Republicans say it would be good if a new candidate entered the presidential race. That's probably not possible given the deadlines for getting on the ballot, etc. But in yet another sign of continued uncertainty, Rasmussen says it has found still about 25% of voters say they might change their minds. So with those numbers, why shouldn't Paul and Santorum hang around a bit longer?

Here's one last set of poll numbers to ponder from Rasmussen. 39% of Republicans surveyed nationwide believe Gingrich is the strongest opponent to take on President Barack Obama, while 37% say it's Romney. But in this same survey, 51% think Romney is still most likely to be the nominee. 51% is a strong number, but it was 70% Romney in the last poll. Can you say uncertainty?

With a different winner in each of the first three GOP contests (for the first time ever): Iowa for Santorum, belatedly; New Hampshire for Romney; and South Carolina for Gingrich, whoever wins Florida adds a lot of new momentum. It would be particularly damaging for Romney to lose in Florida since it would be his second loss in a row after New Hampshire. That's clearly why he has been going after Gingrich so hard, particularly with TV attack ads and in direct attacks on the campaign trail.

According to the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll both candidates suffer from likability deficits. Both camps have tried to capitalize on that in their fights over who is the most "anti-immigrant" (immigration is a big issue in Florida) as well as their own financial and personal questions. The Florida campaign has included two TV debates, and this time it did not appear that Gingrich has had any of the special moments that helped him so much in South Carolina. In fact, Romney may have come out on top in the last meeting (Thursday night) when he taunted Gingrich for saying things in one setting, but refusing to defend what he said in the debates. This time the crowd went wild in applause for Romney.

When Florida is over, the pace and tenor of the presidential race will change.

In the month of February, most of the contests are caucuses (Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota) all held within the first week of the month (and then a caucus in Washington State in early March). This change in format from primaries could actually make Ron Paul something of a factor again, given his small but devoted band of followers who will be sure to show up and support their man. It could also help Romney with a couple of the states such as Nevada having significant Mormon populations. And while there are primaries in both Arizona and Michigan on February 28, they don't occur until after a three week lull with no contests at all across the nation.

That's a long dry spell, especially if it also means a lull in all the debates (19 so far) which have done more this cycle to shape and roil the contest than any other factor, in some ways even more than TV ads, fundraising and on the ground organization for each candidate.

I think all this means the likelihood of Super Tuesday March 6 (when Tennessee and 10 other states vote) becoming a really, really big turning point in this race. And Tennessee could be among the more important states up for grabs (since besides Texas it is now the only neutral southern state on the ballot where all the candidates can compete). So don't be surprised after Florida is finished if we don't see a slowly increasing number of candidate visits and campaign ads here in the Volunteer State, beginning especially during that three week lull in contests from February 8-27.

OBAMA'S STATE OF THE UNION OPPORTUNITY

After being the main campaign target for attack from the GOP candidates these past several months, President Barack Obama recently had his own opportunity to shine before a national television audience during his annual State of the Union Address.

But frankly the number of viewers he attracted is down compared to previous years when he's addressed the country. This time, according to the Nielsen ratings and reported by USA TODAY, the President's address was seen by nearly 38 million people and drew a household rating of 24. Going back to his first address to Congress in early 2009, his numbers were then 52.4 million with a 32.5 household rating, declining the next two years (2010 & 2011) to 48 million with a rating of 29.8 and then 42.8 million with a rating of 26.6.

I am told it is not unusual for a President's speech numbers to decline during his term. It has reportedly happened before for other Presidents. But while not as many people watched and listened, it is still likely a much larger audience than any of the GOP candidates have gotten in any of their debates, and it still gave the President the opportunity to try out some re-election campaign themes.

That includes his proposal than anyone making more than $1 million a year should pay an income tax rate of at least 30%. The timing of that proposal was also done for a specific reason. It came on the very same day that Mitt Romney released the past two years of his income tax returns confirming that on his investment income of millions of dollar annually he paid taxes (legally) at a rate than less 15%. The President says that is not the "fairness" we need in our tax system, and you can expect him to return to that theme over and over again in the weeks and months to come, especially if Romney does eventually become the GOP nominee, which apparently the White House must still think is the most likely scenario.

The President appears to be gaining a little political wind to his back, as there are continuing small signs that the economy is improving. The Wall Street Journal/ NBC News poll shows for the first time in seven months, his job approval numbers are back in the positive category (48% to 46%) and his approval rating in handling the economy is up to 45%, six points higher than mid-December. Meanwhile, "the country on the right track/wrong track" question also looks better for the President. It's up eight points from December (although the right track number is still a very low 30%). The "wrong track" number is also down to 60% after being 69% in December and a staggering 74% in October.

DR. RICHARD LAND & HAPPY DAYS ON INSIDE POLITICS

Dr. Richard Land, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission brings his own unique perspective on the current presidential race to my INSIDE POLITICS show this weekend.

He's recently written an article for THEHILL.COM entitled "A Presidential Nomination Cycle Like No Other We've Seen." We will talk about exactly what he means, but I will tell you enough to know that Dr. Land sees a strong connection between this race and the 1970s hit TV series "Happy Days." That ought to get your attention!

INSIDE POLITICS airs numerous times each weekend on THE NEWCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5. We can also be seen on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at 7:00 p.m., Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday. NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS airs on several cable systems all across Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, including Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150, and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air 5.2 digital channel.

REDISTRICTING FALL OUT

Now that state lawmakers have finally finished redrawing the lines, you are seeing a lot of shuffling around going on as potential candidates size up their best race for this summer and fall. That means do I run for the State House or State Senate or what about Congress. And then there are those deciding not to run at all this cycle such as State Senator Roy Herron.

Many folks thought that at least one of two State Senators from Rutherford County, Bill Ketron and Jim Tracy would decide to oppose first-term incumbent Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais. In fact with Rutherford County now in the 4th District many observers thought the table had been set (and the district redrawn) for exactly that outcome.

But, surprise, both have now announced they won't step out of the Senate and take on DesJarlais. Why? The Senators indicated they enjoyed their work in the General Assembly and wanted to continue that. They also cited family considerations, which most politicians do when they decide to stay out of race. But there are also questions being raised about the unexpectedly large size of the campaign war chest DesJarlais has already amassed, swollen with PAC contributions, including dollars from House Speaker John Boehner.

Of course, nobody's going to admit that's a problem and Democratic State Representative Eric Stewart is already in the ring to oppose the Congressman this fall. The question remains who, if anyone, will now primary DesJarlais? There is Tea Party Activist Lou Ann Zelenick, who gave Congressman Diane Black a tough battle in 2010 when Rutherford County was in another district. But DesJarlais and Zelenick share a common base and if both run against each other that would likely present an opportunity for a third GOP candidate to win.

Meantime, the redistricting of the 8th District in West Tennessee may have opened the opportunity for another GOP freshman Congressman, Stephen Fincher, to get a primary opponent. Eastern Shelby County is a Republican hotbed. When it was in Marsha Blackburn's congressional district, she always took great pains to hold off any primary challenger from gaining a toehold here. Now there are several names surfacing of potential candidates including former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff, State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and State Representative Brian Kelsey. And, of course, depending on which of them run, it could impact other races down the line.

It looks like it's going to be an interesting couple of months leading down to the April qualifying deadline.

DECISION TIME NEARS

It's not just a TV story anymore.

The allegations raised by NewsChannel5's Phil Williams about how Metro Clerk John Arriola has operated his office have been substantiated and confirmed by a scathing audit report from the State Controller's Office. That includes Arriola personally pocketing close to $120,000 in the last several years through a fee he was not supposed to require (only an unspecified gratuity is permitted) to perform marraiges. There are also renewed questions about how the Clerk hired a campaign associate, but did not require him to file any time sheets to verify the hours he worked.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has also been looking into the matter and all the information is piling up on the desk of Metro District Attorney Tory Johnson, who must decide if what is known justifies a criminal prosecution. The Clerk's office has responded by saying it has corrected all the problems pointed out by the Controller's report, although according to THE TENNESSEAN (January 27), the Clerk's response did not speak directly to the marriage fees issue.

These new developments are also raising renewed calls in the Metro Council for Arriola to resign, a move the Clerk managed to defer last year. But clearly this matter is not going away with the focus now back on the D.A. office for its decision about how to proceed.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Happy 85th Birthday to the Grand Old Man of Metro!

Former Metro Mayor (1975-1987) and Nashville Congressman (1963-1975) Richard Fulton celebrated his special milestone with family, friends and former staffers today (and that would include me…as full disclosure if you don't know….I worked for him from 1985-1987).

History is always best written at some distance from the actual events, but to me it is becoming increasingly clear what an important historical figure Fulton has become in Nashville history through his leadership in Congress (one of the few Southern congressmen to vote for the 1960s civil rights and voting rights legislation) as well as his early vision and actions for the revitalization of downtown (Riverfront Park, Second Avenue, Customs House and Union Station to name a few).

So, all the best to you, Mayor Fulton, and may you celebrate many more birthdays to come!