November 2010 Archives

A C (hearts) Haslam move looking quite savvy

 
At the risk of over-reading Memphis mayor A C Wharton's decision to welcome Bill Haslam into City Hall's seventh-floor mayor's office -- and stand with him before TV cameras -- that move is now looking like pretty wise. As Rick points out in an earlier post, Memphis is more of an island unto itself than ever in Tennessee, so much so that Haslam, a two-term city mayor with a moderate record and moderate campaign focus, may potentially be the best ally the city can hope for on Capitol Hill.

Wharton continues to insist there was no political significance to the meeting, but the most popular Democrat in Shelby County -- if not the state -- standing next to the Republican nominee in his office in front of cameras during the general election is not inconsequential.  Haslam's massive victory should earn him some leeway with the Republican legislature, and some of that margin probably was helped by Wharton's move. Memphis must hope that Haslam wasn't just offering empty rhetoric when he pointed out that his wife, Memphis native Crissy Garrett Haslam, would kill him if he didn't take good care of the city.

Haslam told us Monday that he would be back in Memphis on Saturday for meetings. Mayor Wharton might remind him of that campaign-season hospitality.

Haslam sweeps in with historic win margin

 

 NASHVILLE - Republican Bill Haslam's 65 to 33 percent victory over Democrat Mike McWherter - a margin of 32 percentage points - is by far the biggest victory margin in a Tennessee election for governor without an incumbent running for re-election since 1970 when Republicans began seriously contesting gubernatorial races in the Volunteer State.

 

You might call that 40-year span the modern era in Tennessee politics, although you could argue that it actually began four years earlier, in 1966, when Republican Howard Baker won his first U.S. Senate race.

 

In any event, there have now been 11 elections for governor beginning with 1970s watershed election of Republican Winfield Dunn over Democrat John Jay Hooker (Dunn was the first Republican governor of Tennessee in 50 years.)

 

Of those 11 elections, the closest was the 2002 battle in which Democrat Phil Bredesen defeated Republican Van Hilleary by only 3 percentage points. (Four years later, Bredesen won re-election over Republican challenger Jim Bryson by 38.86 percentage points.)

 

Prior to Tuesday, the biggest margin in an open-seat race (like the one Tuesday without the incumbent running), were the 11.6-percentage-point margins of victory in both 1974 and 1978. Ironically, Republican Lamar Alexander was on the losing end of that margin in 1974 when he lost to Democrat Ray Blanton 43.8 to 55.4 percent, then on the winning side four years later when he beat Democrat Jake Butcher 55.6 to 44 percent.

 

Haslam's 32 percent margin was nearly three times bigger than those.

 

Haslam fell short of the biggest victory in any of those 11 races, including the lopsided results when governors won re-election.

 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Republican Don Sundquist's 68.6281 percent to 29.4754 percent victory over Democrat John Jay Hooker (again) was by 39.1527 percentage points. And Bredesen's 68.5987 percent to 29.7402 percent victory over Bryson in 2006 was a 38.8585 percentage point margin.

 

However, Bredesen racked up 1,246,776 votes in that 2006 far outdistanced the 669,973 votes Sundquist won for re-election in 1998.

 

As of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, the complete gubernatorial returns as reported on the Secretary of State's website showed Haslam with 1,041,409 votes to McWherter's 529,834. The 14 other candidates on the ballot for governor shared 30,096 votes.

 

Feel free to peer-review these numbers. It's 1 a.m. and my calculator is tired.

 

One final thing: Bill Haslam becomes the first governor from Knoxville since William Gannaway "Parson" Brownlow, a Knoxville newspaper publisher who served in the post Civil War years of 1865 to 1869. Interestingly, Brownlow was an ardent supporter of the Union -- and of slavery.

GOP tsunami washes over the State Capitol

 

NASHVILLE - The hill on which the Tennessee State Capitol is perched is the highest point in downtown Nashville, but Tuesday's Republican tsunami swept across it with a ferocity unmatched in modern Tennessee politics.

 

Going into Tuesday's balloting, Republicans held a commanding 19-14 margin in the state Senate but only a razor-thin edge of 50-48-1 in the House. (The 1 is Republican-turned-independent Kent Williams of Elizabethton, who was ceremoniously booted out of the GOP last year after he joined all the House Democrats in electing himself  as House speaker over the Republican Caucus nominee. More about Williams below.)

 

According to unofficial returns on Secretary of State Tre' Hargett's website, the GOP picked up one Senate seat by defeating veteran Democratic legislator Doug Jackson of Dickson.

 

But Republicans ran up astonishing numbers in the House, making a net gain of 14 seats, according to the unofficial returns. GOP leaders had predicted at most a five or six seat gain. But if Tuesday night's numbers hold, the new House lineup is: Republicans 64, Democrats 34 and the independent Williams (who turned back a challenge by the Republican he unseated four years ago in his House district).

 

That kind of margin has huge implications, including:

·        Republicans will have a free hand in redrawing district lines for Tennessee's nine U.S. House districts and, more importantly, the state legislative seats. Aided by Memphis lawyer, Republican national committeman and redistricting legal guru John Ryder, the legislative line drawers will be restricted only by federal and state law and the courts that enforce them. The new district lines will go into affect for the 2012 elections. It's conceivable the GOP will add even more to its statehouse majorities in that election by packing more Democrats into fewer districts.

·        Governor-elect Bill Haslam, who arrived with his own huge mandate, will have a virtually free hand to pass legislation he wants.

·        There will be pressure on the handful of rural Democrats left standing to switch parties. Whether or not the GOP wave subsides in two years is yet to be seen (the GOP might be tempted to overreach with legislation on guns, abortion and other hot-topic issues). But emboldened by this year's results, Republicans will likely mount serious challenges to some rural - and urban - Democrats they left untouched this year.

 

With the legislative and congressional results Tuesday, Democrats are left as essentially an inner city party with a few seats in rural areas in Middle and West Tennessee.

 

If the results hold up, there are no Democrats in the state Senate east of Chattanooga and none in the House east of Knoxville. Of the 34 House Democrats, two are from Knoxville, two from Chattanooga, eight from Nashville and 11 from Memphis. That leaves only 11 scattered across rural Middle and West Tennessee.

 

State GOP chairman Chris Devaney was ebullient.

"For the first time in modern history, Tennessee will have a Republican governor and majorities in both state legislative bodies simultaneously," he said in a statement. "Returns are still coming in, but as of this release, Republicans have made double-digit gains in the State House. For the first time in modern history, Republicans are going to lead at every level of government in this state. This is truly a historic day and Republicans are honored that voters have put their trust in our party to lead Tennessee."

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 fivethirtyeight.com, 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.
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