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Who knew Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman would be at the center of an election controversy?

Talk about misleading ads -- B.J. Lawson, the Republican candidate facing North Carolina Democratic Rep. David Price, not only put up a TV ad featuring voiceover that was a dead ringer for Morgan Freeman but then in a press release claimed that it really WAS Morgan Freeman doing work for him.

Freeman, who has business interests in Memphis and grew up just south in the Mississippi Delta, released an emphatic statement to the media: "These people are lying. I have never recorded any campaign ads for B.J. Lawson and I do not support his candidacy. And, no one who represents me ever has ever authorized the use of my name, voice or any other likeness in support of Mr. Lawson or his candidacy."

The Lawson campaign has now issued an apology, according to CNN. "We're apologizing to Congressman Price, to the voters, and most of all to Morgan Freeman because this is not the campaign we wanted to run, and not the campaign we have run," Lawson campaign spokesman Martin Avila told CNN.

The Price campaign's statement: "This is an unfortunate and desperate attempt to fool voters in the last hours of a campaign. By using Mr. Freeman's good name, BJ Lawson has ruined his own, and he should be ashamed. Now the voters will decide whom they trust."

Here is the ad:

An hour after the precincts opened today, there was very little evidence that Hope Presbyterian Church on Walnut Grove was a place to cast your ballot.

The Election Commission did its job. There were the appropriate signs identifying it as the Cordova-9 precinct. Even one showing the boundary where campaign workers could stand.

That didn't matter. No one was there campaigning for anyone. And if that wasn't bad enough. There weren't any campaign signs around either. Not for the gubernatorial candidates. Not on the consolidation referendum. Not for any of the other contested races on the ballot.

That held true at many other precincts, including at Richland Elementary.

Enough with the whining over attack ads

Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I've gotten a little weary of the puritanical bellyaching about negative campaigning, attack ads and the like. While I would prefer to hear positive messages, it's absurd to suggest political messages are any more negative or cut-throat than they have ever been. Democracy is not always polite. And, yes, candidates and their supporters really ought to be pointing out ways in which an opponent may be lacking as a candidate/person/representative. Just, you know, be factual about it. Lying about opponents is a problem and voters ought to punish such behavior.

The people at the libertarian-leaning magazine Reason put together this video using campaign messages from that old doozy Jefferson vs. Adams. You mean the Founding Fathers indulged in partisan attacks? Say it ain't so ...

2 reasons midterm predictions may be off: '94 & '98

There are two reasons why we really have no clear idea precisely what will happen today -- 1994 and 1998. Polls and the consensus predictions for election day were well off each of those cycles, greatly underestimating the 1994 Republican wave and completely whiffing in 1998 when everyone predicted huge Republican gains in a year when Democrats actually gained seats (mainly because Democrats who normally skip midterms actually showed up to support President Clinton).

Nate Silver of, who made his reputation with statistical models accurately predicting baseball outcomes and absolutely nailed the 2008 presidential election results, has two provocative posts exploring what the best possible outcome would look like for Republicans and what the best possible outcome would look like for Democrats. He's actually predicting Democrats hold the Senate with 52 seats and Republicans gain 54-55 seats in the House, but says it is equally possible that Republicans could take over the Senate and gain 77 or more House seats if polls underestimate their support OR Democrats could limit losses to around 30 seats in the House and five in the Senate if the likely-voter model is underestimating likely Democratic turnout and polls are just plain missing voters who do not use landlines.

Here is an interesting piece from The Daily Beast compiling how far off experts were in 1994. And below is Silver talking about the ways in which predictions missed in 1994 and 1998:

In ... 1998 ... Democrats overperformed their polls by about four points in a great number of races around the country. What was supposed to be an echo to the Republican boom year of 1994 basically flopped, eventually costing Newt Gingirch his job as majority leader.

Consensus expectations also considerably underestimated the Republican wave year of 1994, although a few indicators (like Gallup's generic ballot poll) got it about right.

If we wanted to be generous to Democrats (which is, of course, the purpose of this article), we could say that the consensus basically failed in two out of the last four midterm elections. Of course, that the consensus view could fail does not mean that it will fail in the Democrats' direction: instead Republican gains could be much larger than expected.

Herron: Election about 'character', not Obama-Pelosi

Democratic nominee Roy Herron is not relenting on his attacks against his 8th Congressional District opponent, Republican nominee and Crockett County farmer Stephen Fincher. Much of the last two months of the campaign have seen Fincher and his supporters pushing Fincher to participate in debates, to disclose his tax returns and other details of his personal finances and to explain the details of what Herron calls a "mysterious" $250,000 loan that has prompted federal election authorities to investigate.

Herron was in Memphis Monday during a two-day tour in which he will touch all 19 counties in the 8th District. Fincher, who has largely avoided one on one dialog with reporters, was in Dyersburg, Union City and Milan on Monday and will be in Crockett County, Martin and Jackson on Tuesday.

Herron said he believes many more election-day voters -- people who have not cast votes in early voting -- are predisposed to him than Fincher, but the key is making sure they get to the polls. Herron said his campaign made 11,000 phone calls over the weekend, and would be "calling and hauling" to make sure anyone who is a Herron supporter becomes a Herron voter. Herron's closing with voters basically goes like this:

The fundamental issue in the campaign comes down character. I've been open and honest with the people and I'll be open and honest enough to represent them. My opponent is dependent upon the Washington lobbyists and special interest groups with more than two-thirds of the money spent on his behalf. He's beholden to them and can't be independent to represent the people of this district. He hasn't been open with the people when he has refused to debate, refused to release his tax returns, refused to answer questions from the people or the press. When his most recent meetings have been closed to the public and invitation only.

Ultimately when one candidate is being open and honest and independent and the other is not, the people are going to decide the issue on character and decide I am the person that will fight for them and work for them.
Normally, this is where we would include the opponent's response, but Fincher's spokesman declined the opportunity to respond to attacks. And Fincher has not been made available. Herron gives out his cell phone number to the press and at campaign events and literally every time he is in Memphis, calls members of the media personally to ask them if they have any questions for him. Which is not to say that's something for a voter to consider; clearly, other issues should trump how a candidate deals with the media, but it is to say that if Herron's side of the story gets out more in the media, there is a reason.

On the major issues, Fincher and Herron actually are not far apart. Both say they want to create more jobs but also want to reduce federal government spending. Both say they would vote against Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. Both are pro-life, support the National Rifle Association, have deep ties to the farm economy. Which is why Herron believes -- hopes -- voters will look past partisan labels in making their choice.

Most people in the 8th District are neither Democrats or Republicans. They are independents and will make their own independent decisions about who can best represent them.

The people of the 8th District even if they do have a party affiliation are pretty doggoned independent. The Democrats in the 8th District are Tennessee Democrats, not necessarily national in their affiliation. They believe in fiscal responsibility and helping the middle class and the working people. Those are my beliefs, those are my values, those are the values of the 8th District, whether you are a D or an R or an Independent, and I think the independent-thinking people of the 8th District will make their own independent decision.

Finally, Herron said he believes what few 8th District polls have been released are insufficient measures of voter sentiment. The 8th, he said, is far too spread out, too diverse for a 300-person poll to have the final word on whether the race is competitive. However, Herron's own national party apparatus abandoned him, based on their determination of his chances. Here's Herron on why he still believes he can win:

The people of the 8th District are telling me we can win this election, and that it really turns on turnout. The fact that somebody in Washington, D.C., who is hundreds of miles away thinks this election's over shows how little they know about it.

But did you know my wife's from Memphis?

Crissy Haslam, wife of gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam, got not one but two rousing renditions of "Happy Birthday" at Patrick's, a restaurant in East Memphis where supporters of the Republican mayor of Knoxville gathered for a quick lunch/rally the day before the election. Haslam, who grew up in the Central Gardens neighborhood in Memphis and attended St. Mary's Episcopal School, had many old friends on hand, and Haslam took one final opportunity to present her as a not-so-secret weapon for gaining the trust and support of Memphis and Shelby County voters.

"One certain special birthday girl and I, set out 669 days ago, all with the idea of ending up here to celebrate her birthday," Haslam said.

Of course, Democratic candidate Mike McWherter, a businessman from Jackson, surrenders no ground when it comes to claiming Memphis-Shelby County-West Tennessee bona fides, often saying he doesn't need a GPS to get around Memphis, that he's bought his clothes and spent money his whole life in Memphis and grew up reading The Commercial Appeal and caring about all things Memphis. His wife, Mary Jane, is a native of Covington, just one county north of Shelby. McWherter worked Memphis and Shelby County very hard over the previous four days trying to motivate the state's largest Democratic voting base to turn out.

The Democratic nominee in the 8th Congressional District, state senator Roy Herron of Dresden, hasn't deployed his wife, Nancy, as much as Haslam, but he isn't shy about making sure people know she is from Memphis -- and that her parents attended church in Raleigh, which is in the 8th District.

"My wife is from Shelby County, I've got friends from Raleigh, from Frayser, from Millington -- lots of friends that have been very kind to me through the years and have been working hard to talk to their friends, too," Herron said during a stop in Memphis.

Can local Democrats extend late resurgence?

Today is the final day of campaigning, and Memphis will receive a visit from Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam at Patrick's for lunch at 12:40 in East Memphis (off Park). His opponent, Democrat Mike McWherter, spent almost the entire weekend in Memphis and Shelby County trying to motivate Democratic turnout. As he did most of the weekend, he'll continue to partner with his party's 8th Congressional District nominee, Roy Herron, at events today and gatherings today elsewhere in the state.

As I point out in a story this morning, the final four days of early-voting showed a big increase in participation from likely Democratic voters -- especially those sorted by the Shelby County Election Commission as registered black voters. Many of the local Democrats who sweated the first 10 days or so of early voting, like 9th District incumbent Steve Cohen, are now feeling very confident but still know they need strong turnout on Tuesday. I wrote about Cohen's race against tea-party favorite Charlotte Bergmann in Sunday's paper, and included numbers that our data reporter, Grant Smith, helped me compile applying a precinct-by-precinct analysis based on partisan-voting patterns from the Aug. 5 election.

For the details on how turnout broke down in early voting, check out today's story. Email me for more information.

The 8th District's empty lectern


JACKSON, Tenn. - Jackson's Steve Bowers said at outset of the 8th Congressional District debate he moderated at Lane College Thursday night that the decision facing the district's voters is an important one for the region. "These congressional seats don't open very often," Bowers said.

The last time the seat had no incumbent running for re-election was 1988 when John Tanner won the seat. He replaced Ed Jones, who won it in 1969. And Jones succeeded Robert A. "Fats" Everett, who won it in 1958. Everett frequently uttered the memorable phrase, inscribed on his statue at the Obion County Courthouse, "If a man don't want to work, he hadn't ought to hire out."

Which is relevant in this election, given Republican Stephen Fincher's failure to show up at the Lane College debate - or any of the other half-dozen or so debates, forums and joint appearances that were either held or proposed to be held for the 8th District candidates since the Aug. 5 primary. Since winning the GOP primary, Fincher's backers have run the most expensive Tennessee congressional campaign in history, thanks to hundreds of thousands of dollars cascading in from Washington special interest groups either contributing directly to his effort or spending money "independently" on his behalf.

Lane College emphasized Fincher's absence by setting up a lectern with his name on it, like the other three that had actual candidates standing behind them - Democrat Roy Herron and independents Donn Janes and Mark Rawles. Unlike Union University, which folded its tent after Fincher refused to debate there and substituted separate appearances by only Fincher and Herron before small groups on different nights.

At Lane, before an audience that grew to nearly 100, Herron, Janes and Rawles engaged in a spirited but civil discussion of the issues for an hour and a half. Bowers allowed the candidates to engage with and rebut each other. Unlike the pseudo debates televised in our statewide elections, Bowers simply presented the candidates with the topics and let them go at it rather than engage himself in a self-aggrandizing game of "gotcha" with them.

Fincher, 37, came under fire from all three for boycotting the event. "Stephen Fincher has said we need someone with courage to stand. I couldn't agree more," said Herron, 57, a state senator and lawyer from Dresden. "If you send me to Washington I'll show up and I'll stand up. I won't be afraid to release my tax returns and to list my asset and liabilities on legally required forms. I won't be afraid to stand up for you."

Janes, 45, a computer consultant from Brighton, landed a zinger. Referring to a recently released list by a congressional watchdog citizens group, Janes said "There's a website that I believe Mr. Fincher is going to get on soon - it tracks the 15 most corrupt politicians in Washington."

But actually the attacks on the vacant lectern were a small part of the evening. Herron, Janes and Rawles discussed in some detail their views on topics like the national health reform, Social Security, immigration, jobs, education, American competitiveness, the national debt, government spending and the spiraling budget deficits, energy policy, gays in the military. They agreed on some, disagreed on others.

The audience left Lane College last night having a pretty good feel for how Herron, Janes and Rawles feel on those topics and what they'd do if elected to represent the 8th District's people in Congress. Fincher and his Washington backers are spending a lot of money on TV ads that tell very little about his positions on much of anything.

Janes told the crowd at one point: "This is a job interview, folks. If an applicant didn't show up for a job interview would you hire that person?"

Fincher outpaces Herron in money race


WASHINGTON - Republican Stephen Fincher continues to outpace Democrat Roy Herron in the 8th Congressional District money race, Federal Election Commission filings indicate.

Following last Friday's third quarter disclosures, which showed Fincher raising $866,026 to Herron's $764,705, both candidates have filed supplemental reports.

In them, Fincher has raised $35,500 since Friday from individuals and from political action committees such as Lorillard Tobacco, General Dynamics, Merck, Pfizer, and cotton and from congressional campaigns in Missouri and Georgia.

Herron received $19,000 in new contributions from an employee of the U.S. Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Miss.; lawyers from Dunlap and Dyersburg; a veterinarian in Cookeville; and unions representing painters and operating engineers.

New York Times visits Tenn-Ark-Issippi

One of top political reporters for The New York Times, Jeff Zeleny, parachuted into the Delta to provide the scene for a more general story on that endangered political animal known as the white Southern Democrat. Zeleny begins: "The Southern white Democrat, long on the endangered list, is at risk of being pushed one step closer to extinction."  Zeleny was in Jonesboro last week when President Clinton visited to stump for Chad Causey, the Democratic nominee in Arkansas' 1st Congressional District (farm broadcaster Rick Crawford is the Republican nominee, though the times had a typo calling him "Rick Scott"); Clinton also hit Little Rock and later was in Oxford, Miss., to help out Democrat Travis Childers (the incumbent who is facing Republican Alan Nunnelee).

Here in Jonesboro, the First Congressional District has not sent a Republican to Washington since 1873. But the retirement of Representative Marion Berry has created the best opening that Republicans can recall, with Mr. Obama and his party viewed with suspicion. Democrats see the district as a firewall if they are to retain a foothold in the South.

Former President Bill Clinton, who spent his career navigating between his party's liberal sensibilities and the far more centrist instincts of Democrats in his home region, visited the district last week, passing through Batesville and Paragould before arriving for a rally in Jonesboro. He warned voters, "You are being played," and urged people to cast ballots with their economic self interest in mind.

"If it's a referendum on Democrats against some imagined perfection, we'll get whacked," Mr. Clinton said in a brief interview. "If it's a real, informed choice, we'll do fine."

At every stop, the Democratic Congressional candidate, Chad Causey, stood at Mr. Clinton's side, smiling as the former president offered a lesson on the economy, a defense of Mr. Obama and a plea for voters not to act out of anger on Election Day. Mr. Causey allowed Mr. Clinton to do most of the talking, but he pledged not to be a rubber stamp for the Obama administration or a Democratic Congress.

The story (which also references Roy Herron in Tennessee's 8th) reminded me of the many maps produced after President Obama's victory in the 2008 election, many of them showing that the only counties that increased their vote for the Republican nominee started up in northern Appalachia and swung down through the south. More interesting to me were the maps that showed percentage of white vote (gleaned from exhaustive exit polling) captured by Obama. There was no getting around the fact that no matter the political climate, white southern voters -- especially white southern men -- are not disposed to support Democrats. There are myriad reasons for this and I won't argue them here, but suffice to say that for Democrats to win in the south, they must either make more inroads with white voters -- especially white men -- or make darn sure nonwhite voters are motivated to come out and vote.

And as we have pointed out, so far in early voting here Shelby County, it is clear white voters are much more motivated to turn out (latest report showed 53.6 percent of early voters are registered white voters and only 20.3 percent are registered black voters, with the "other" category at 26.2 percent probably carved up similarly).

Links to maps are below:

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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at or 529-2564.

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