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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 26, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 26, 2012

CREATED Oct 26, 2012

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL PUBLIC RELATIONS & ADVERTISING

October 26, 2012

DOWN TO THE WIRE; INSIDE POLITICS; STILL SQUEEZED; VOTER ID CARD; IMPRESSIVE LIST; ONE LAST BIG LIFESTYLE CHANGE…AND THE TOUGHEST ONE;

DOWN TO THE WIRE

About 10 days out from Election Day, and what do we know? It's a tight, very tight race between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. But what does that mean?

It means it's so tight any relatively tiny gaffe or mistake could make the difference as exhausted candidates crisscross the country, with tired staff and no-doubt grumpy reporters. What could go wrong there? Or what role will the "Frankenstorm" play in the race as it bears down on the East Coast this weekend and early next week (especially if its effects go as far inland as Ohio)? How will the President and his administration (FEMA) respond to the storm? What does Mr. Romney do as his role as "Comforter in Chief" is very limited and how does he criticize the President without being seen as trying to make political hay out of tragedy?

Even the polls seem at odds about where the race is. The latest AP survey (October 25) shows a dead heat with Romney ahead by a point or so. But it also shows him about even with the President with women, while Mr. Obama has come up to almost even with the Governor with men. That's backward from almost every poll throughout this contest, and without other surveys showing a similar change, it looks somewhat suspect. But it was done by the Associated Press, a large mainstream news organization, so it will get a lot of ink and air time nationwide.

Seizing on his success in the debates and his now narrow lead in several national popular vote polls, Governor Romney is trying to act presidential and look like a front-runner/winner. It's a tactic he began during the third debate, where he backed away from some clear attack opportunities he could have used to go after the President on foreign policy (Libya for instance).

Instead, it appeared the GOP candidate was content to do enough to look like he could be president and not make a big mistake or a gaffe (or look warlike or combative) even if he "lost" the debate by larger numbers than the second debate. Remember, President Obama narrowly "won" but got no discernible bump from the second debate. This third and last debate was over foreign policy…important but not as much as the economy and jobs in the minds of voters. Romney seems to be ahead in the polls with voters on those issues, and he managed to get in his licks in again on those topics in the third debate against the President.

All this subtle positioning also goes along with Romney (beginning in the first debate which he won decisively), moving to the middle (flip-flopping) on some issues (with no loud objections coming from his conservative base). All this in a clear effort to attract some voter groups (suburban married women for instance) who still might be undecided or persuadable.

But has this given Team Romney a momentum that is continuing? Pollsters disagree but the candidate seems to think so (and he is betting his campaign on it in the final days). Meantime with his persistent attacks on Romney from the second debate forward, you might wonder if the President is worried. I don't hear him quoted on the campaign trail saying "we are going to win." I hear it from Romney all the time.

As for the President's attacks, the "Romnesia" phrase is at least somewhat cute and memorable as a way to criticize Romney's flip flops and "Etch A Sketch" moves. But any incumbent running under 50% this late in the campaign knows he has a real challenge. The remaining undecided voters usually break for the challenger.

The President still has his strengths. His "Mid-West or Big 10 firewall" (Iowa, Wisconsin and, most importantly, Ohio) continue to hold in the battleground polls. If he can keep those states alone, he's over the needed 270 in the Electoral College. While the Romney/Ryan ticket are spending lots of time in Ohio looking for a breakthrough, others in the GOP are looking for potential weaknesses to create new battleground states in Michigan, Maine or Pennsylvania, making new TV ad buys there (as together both sides have now raised a record $2 billion and spent over $1 billion on media spots). The polls in these potential new battleground states are close, but until I see the GOP spending candidate time there I am a little doubtful.

The Real Clear Politics web site had shown Romney up a few electoral votes among solid or leaning states. That changed on Thursday (October 25) to show the President up 201 to 191 and says Mr. Obama prevails in their summary of states overall (281 to 257). But those margins are so small, a bad poll or two in Ohio or Iowa or Wisconsin or any battleground state could change things and really put the President under the gun, especially with North Carolina and possibly Florida possibly slipping away. Virginia after being tied the last few days now shows Romney up 1.4 by Real Clear Politics, 2 points by Fox and leaning Democratic by Electoral-Vote, com. The new MSNBC / WALL STREET JOURNAL shows Colorado tied and the President up 2 points in Nevada. Electoral-vote. Com has it 284-220 Obama in electoral votes, but has put Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia as tied. The NEW YORK TIMES Fivethirtyeight.com blog site has it 290, Obama, 244, Romney and gives the President a 71% chance to win (up in recent days). InTrade Odds (financial insiders) also has a bit of an Obama boomlet underway going from 61.2%, Obama, 38.7% Romney on Thursday to 63% Obama, 36.7% Romney on Friday. The NYT site has the popular vote at Obama 50.2%, Romney 48.2%., while the latest ABC/WASHINGTON POST polls shows Romney at 50% for the first time, Obama 47%. Close, close, close. And could it all mean Romney wins the popular vote, but Obama keeping the Presidency by winning the Electoral College?

But polls aren't votes. And it's so close now you need to look beyond the polls and measure the Get Out The Vote efforts of both campaigns. Those could determine who wins many key and very close states with a superior ground game able chalk up several extra points for a candidate that a poll can't measure. If the current polls are right, the President may be getting a big boost already in the early voting. In Ohio alone, the latest TIME magazine poll shows Mr. Obama up 60%-30% among those who had already voted. That's a number if it is even close to being correct, are not ones Republicans could match. But the GOP says its ground game is better and that Team Obama is just getting Democrats who were going to vote anyway to turn out early and that hurts the overall "blue" Election Day turnout.

Who knows who's right? Nobody will until Election Night or maybe the next day. Meantime both sides look for whatever last minute advantage they can find, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell again supporting the President. This is not likely to be anything near the big deal it was four years ago, but there is sure no down side I can see, and any edge could be the key one in the few days remaining.

INSIDE POLITICS

Dr. John Miglietta, a political science professor at Tennessee State University is one of our guests on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. He will give us his perspective on where the presidential race stands and what to watch for on Election Night. We also welcome Chip Forrester, the outgoing chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Chip has announced he is not seeking another term as chair after two terms as party leader. It's been a time which has seen internal in-fighting and a loss of the governor chair, several congressional seats and a majority in both houses of the Legislature for the Democrats. In fact, Mr. Forrester may be announcing his exit just days before another election debacle for Tennessee Democrats with additional losses in the General Assembly to the point that Republicans will have a "walk-out proof" majority in both chambers, rendering Democrats to be basically irrelevant. The problems for the state party are not all due to Chip Forrester but his successor sure has his (or her) work cut out for them.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. Our air times include 5:00 a.m. Sunday on the main channel, WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5. We are also 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. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5 over-the-air digital channel 5.

STILL SQUEEZED

It's been another tough week for embattled Tennessee 4th District GOP freshman Congressman Scott DesJarlais. He's been taking heat for three weeks since it was disclosed (from leaked court documents in his divorce case back in 2002) that he had a taped phone conversation with one his patients (with whom he admits he had an affair) pressuring her to have an abortion.

DesJarlais says it is all dirty politics. He denies anybody was pregnant and therefore there was no abortion. But he doesn't deny the affair or that the woman involved was his patient which would be a violation of medical ethics rules in Tennessee (a complaint against the Doctor has been filed).

The scandal has breathed major life into the campaign of Democratic State Senator Eric Stewart who now seems to have raised enough money to air his own TV ads to join those from a national Democratic congressional Super Pac to blast DesJarlais' behavior and tout Stewart as the alternative for voters. In fact, Stewart claims he has recently raised twice as much money compared to his opponent ($63,000 to $30,000), another indication he believes the race is a "dead heat" in the polls.

But DesJarlais has enough funds left to have a new response ad out saying what Stewart says is "garbage" (with landfill pictures as the ad's visuals). The spot adds what worse for Tennessee is that the Stewart is for President Obama and ObamaCare.

It's clear the race has tightened. But will the controversy be enough to defeat the pro-life congressman? That remains uncertain. However, the media coverage including the national stories, have been brutal. In the district, the two newspapers in Chattanooga (THE TIMES and THE NEWS FREE PRESS) have made a relatively rare joint endorsement of Stewart, while another newspaper outlet (THE MURFREESBORO DAILY NEWS JOURNAL) whose coverage area is new to the district, has deplored Dr. DesJarlais behavior, and the KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL has called for Dr. DesJarlais to resign.

Now newspaper endorsements or editorials are sure not what they used to be in terms of electing or defeating a candidate but they can sure help reflect and build the fire of public anger over a matter like this, especially if it's reflected by similar negative stories in the many weekly papers in the sprawling 4th Congressional district. I don't see enough of those publications to see if that's happening, but I will say this. The more this story gets spread around, the worse it is for the Congressman.

Even Republicans continue to keep their distance. Popular and well respected former Governor Winfield Dunn, who has campaigned for many GOP candidates over the years, would only say to reporters when asked (ASSOCIATED PRESS 10/24), that he had not been requested to do any campaigning for DesJarlais, adding the Congressman has had some "serious personal problems in the past" …and he hoped he would be able to put them behind him. (Read: Bless his heart)

Meanwhile current Governor Bill Haslam inadvertently got pulled back into the controversy. He apparently mentioned to reporters that he had received a text message from Congressman DesJarlais on the day the story first broke. No reporters apparently asked further about it, but the Tennessee Democratic Party has filed an Open Records request to get a copy of the text. The Governor's Office, per its custom, says it is reviewing the request. Nobody knows if the text says anything important (except perhaps the Governor) and I'm sure he wishes he had never opened his mouth even if it just says "Hi, Governor. How are you?"

Even DesJarlais' defeated opponent from two years ago, former Congressman Lincoln Davis, has weighed in. He says he now regrets airing negative ads about the Doctor regarding similar allegations in the divorce case. But Davis denies he leaked the new information that has sparked this controversy.

VOTER ID CARD

At least for this election cycle, be sure and have your Tennessee drivers' license or some kind of approved photo ID when you vote. The State Appeals Court has ruled unanimously that it is OK for the General Assembly to require such an approved ID for casting a ballot.

But the Court also ruled the picture ID Library cards they have in Memphis are OK too to use for voting. They has upset state officials who say they may appeal that part of the ruling to the State Supreme Court. But I wonder if there is time to get an appeal done and ruled on prior to November 6.We could see a request to the High Court to ask for an injunction so the Memphis Library card can't be used and the Supreme Court could rule on that. Bottom line: a confusing situation may get even more so despite the Appeals Court decision. Meantime, if you are in Memphis, smile and say cheese to get your new ID if you want use your library card to vote. Oh, and be a good citizen too, and pay your overdue book fines too.

IMPRESSIVE LIST

That's quite an impressive list of Tennessee political, business, academic and community leaders who've joined a national bi-partisan coalition urging Congress to "Fix The Debt."

Former Governors Winfield Dunn and Phil Bredesen; former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe; cabinet members Dave Goetz, Matt Kisber and Paula Flowers , former FCC Commissioner Debbie Tate; Belmont University President Bob Fisher; Tim Pagliara, CEO of CapWealth Advisors are involved, and the list goes on.

Too bad none of them have a vote (although two of them, former Congressmen Zach Wamp and Lincoln Davis used to).

How to "fix the debt" will be up to the lame-duck Congress during its rump session after the November 6 election. Given the total lack of progress and the overall non-accomplishments of this current group of public officials on the Hill, don't get your hopes up.

Most likely they will find a way to kick the can down the road again (especially if a new Romney administration is coming in and needs some time to get into office). They may do that even if President Obama is re-elected. Nobody really wants these tax increases and ill-conceived budget cuts Congress approved last year to force some action on this debt mess. But even this "or-else" hasn't motivated Congress to find a solution. I doubt the election results will either. I'd like to think this coalition will help, but my guess is probably not, despite everyone's best intentions. Gridlock and partisanship prevail.

ONE LAST BIG LIFESTYLE CHANGE…AND THE TOUGHEST ONE

I had my last physical therapy session Tuesday.

That's right. The "Drill Sargeant" (Lisa Haack) has discharged me after about three months of weekly outpatient sessions (late July-October 23).

I have now completed all of my work at the Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Clinic at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center (speech, occupational and physical therapies) in recovery from my stroke on June 28.

I'm done.

But am I?

For the past couple of months, dating back before my stroke, my father-in-law, Dr. Fred Love, has been strongly encouraging my wife, Betty Lee, and myself to join the YMCA and get into a regular exercise program. He is even talking about us having a personal trainer to keep us accountable to change our lifestyles.

And we've signed up to do it!

We've joined the Y and had our first session with our personal trainer yesterday morning (Thursday).

How will this work out? I hope it turns out well. I know this is the only way I can be serious about exercising and staying with it.

Anyone who has known me, at any time in my life, knows I am NOT an exercise person. It's just not for me. When I have been in rehab (both this time and while recovering in the past from breaking my left foot and hurting my left shoulder twice) I have been a good patient, always showing up on time and working hard with my therapist.

But exercising at home, by myself, on my own? NOT! I have been inconsistent at best, often non-existent in doing most any kind of difficult exercise work, especially side planks, etc. So having a set aside time each week for exercise at the Y with a personal trainer to hold me accountable, is the only way this will work, at least until I get used to (committed) this last, and most important lifestyle change in recovering from my stroke.

I've been sharing my recovery with readers of this column for the past six weeks, and I thought I would end it today. I've told my stories and tried to be honest and direct about the successes and challenges of what I've faced since my life changed so suddenly and unexpectedly in late June.

But I have had so much positive reaction and encouragement from readers to keep writing on this topic, I think I will try to do so. Frankly, I was concerned that I would bore people after a couple of weeks on this topic. But instead, I've never had this much positive reaction from anything I written. So while it may not be every week, I will keep everyone updated on how things are going, and the continuing challenges and successes that lie ahead.

In the meantime, as a thank you gift to all those at Pi Phi who have helped me in getting my life back, the thank you gift I delivered Wednesday morning was two dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts! Is that bad? Hey, all things in moderation, right, especially if they share the treats with one another? OK, yeah, maybe it is a little wrong, but I hope they enjoyed the doughnuts anyway.

On another topic, lots of people have asked me about my plans in the not too distant future concerning the election, so I want to be clear.

The Good Lord willing, the creek don't rise, and, God forbid, I don't have any new health issues, I have every intention of being live and in-person on NEWSCHANNEL5's election coverage on Tuesday, November 6. No phone-ins this time. I plan to be right beside Rhori Johnston and the rest of the wonderful NEWSCHANNEL5 election team. As most of you know I love Election Night, and there is no place else I'd rather be.

I am working to build up my endurance and stamina to make it through the night (although hopefully we won't go all night and for the following days on end such as we did in 2000). Nevertheless, I expect it to be quite exciting and for us to be a while November 6 (and maybe into November 7) trying to figure out what the final results are. And I would not miss it or be anywhere else than at NEWSCHANNEL5 and, as always, I appreciate the opportunity to join their great Election Night team!