By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
June 11, 2010
CAMPAIGN TWISTS & TURNS; AN UPDATE; DUELING ENDORSEMENTS; FINALLY GONE; INSIDE POLITICS
The three-way fight to be the Republican nominee for Governor of Tennessee is taking a lot more twists and turns as the contest moves just five weeks away from the beginning of early voting.
The front runner, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam seems to be trying to reassure voters that he is right on key conservative issues, and that he is an OK, "genuine" person who cares about others even if he is very rich. The Haslam campaign is also releasing an internal poll to especially show potential large money supporters that he holds a double-digit lead in the race.
So why is this happening? Does his campaign research show that voters need some reassurances about the Mayor? Is the poll being released to potential major contributors (and the media) as a way to reassure everyone that Haslam is the clear front-runner and most likely to win?
Let's look at the TV ads first.
Two of Mayor Haslam's recent TV spots seem to be trying to reassure voters that he is "the real deal" and "the real thing." The first ad ran for several weeks and featured a testimonial from an "everyman" Tennessee farmer from Wilson County. He wants to reassure everyone that Haslam has been raised "right" and that he is OK on key conservative issues such as 2nd amendment rights and complete opposition to any state income tax.
Now there is a second TV ad featuring a Memphis school teacher, another "every person." Her message is not to write off Haslam just because he is rich. She says he is a "genuine person" "who cares about people first, all types, all economic groups, all colors." Maybe this is just an effort to get voters to better know the candidate, especially in parts of the state (Middle and West Tennessee) where he has not spent his political career and where none of the GOP candidates live. By the way, there is a third Haslam that has the candidate talking about the need for more good jobs in the state.
But on these other ads, could it be that Haslam's research shows he needs to shore up support against concerns that his vast wealth make him out of touch with regular folks? As for reassuring conservatives about his support on key issues such as gun rights and opposition to the income tax, that is clearly important since Haslam continues to be attacked in that area by one of his opponents, Congressman Zach Wamp.
In fact, Wamp's latest efforts not only try to marginalize Haslam, but also greatly minimize the third GOP primary candidate, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. Wamp recently told reporters that the race is down to him and Haslam. "Those are the two choices," he says. He also calls Haslam one of the worst things you can say about an opponent this campaign year, especially in a GOP primary fight.
He says the Knoxville mayor is "an establishment moderate" that Republican primary voters will reject no matter how much money Haslam spends. Wamp adds according to a story by the Associated Press (June 9): "What people want today is grass roots conservatism, not an establishment moderate. His record is definitely establishment, definitely moderate—and that's not what we need anymore."
AP says Haslam laughed off Wamp's charges, saying' "I'll match my conservative credentials against anybody's. It's easy in politics to call names and say this or that. Go back and look at records."
Indeed, perhaps it is so easy "to call names or say this or that", that is it also wise to run testimonial TV ads from common, average folks that stick up for him.
As for Ramsey, he is, of course disputing Wamp's assertion that it is now a two-way race. Telling the Associated Press: "People aren't looking for someone to say "I'm from Washington and I'm here to help." Indeed, but based on Haslam's recently released internal poll, Wamp could be correct about a two-man race.
The survey done by the Ayres-McHenry firm done of 600 likely primary voters with a plus-or-minus- 4% margin of error shows:
Internal campaign polls that are released or leaked to the public are always suspect on their face. But there are no other current independent polls available, so who can say for sure? But it is interesting that the first time I saw the poll it came as a part of a fundraising letter seeking persons to attend an upcoming major money event ($1000 per-person) at the Nashville home of John and Stephanie Ingram. Do some funders need some reassurance?
And what will Wamp do, if anything about Haslam's poll? I doubt he will publicly embrace it, but might his operatives privately work on conservatives now leaning to Ramsey? The message would be: Ramsey can't win, but if Ramsey's support came to Wamp, a conservative might actually have a chance to close the gap and win the race against Haslam. Or will some decide to stay with Ramsey or even move to Haslam, if he has reassured them enough that he has the "right stuff" and can be the "real deal" for Tennessee conservatives?
By the way, I am told by a source that Ramsey is claiming his internal polls show him second in the race ahead of Wamp with all three candidates bunched much closer together. The Haslam team claims in an article by Andy Sher in THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS (June 10) that both Wamp's and Ramsey's poll numbers are about the same as they have been in previous polling. Meanwhile Wamp and Ramsey say given all the advertising money Haslam is spending shouldn't he be in a better position in the area. The Haslam camp responds by saying their lead is not just built on TV ads, it is also based on their county by county organization. And so on and so on….and back and forth.
One last note, the most money that's been raised by far in this election cycle in Tennessee has clearly been Bill Haslam. And I guess no contribution is too small. Why else would I get an e-mail from the Haslam campaign on behalf of its honorary chairman, former Senator Howard Baker, asking for a $10 contribution? That's right, ten bucks. I know it all counts and spends, but is the Haslam camp trying to pump up their base and number of small donors to make things look better when it's time to release their next campaign finance disclosure?
In last week's column I mentioned I was moderating a gubernatorial forum for the Tennessee Bar Association featuring all the candidates. There was some concern on the GOP side that there might be an effort to hijack the format and talk about other issues rather than the ones the TBA and the sponsoring groups wanted to focus on. But everyone was as good as gold and stayed on topic. Oh, of course, they got a few shots in their opening and closing statements, but that was expected.
What wasn't expected was the chance for me to stay and hear Governor Phil Bredesen speak to the TBA luncheon. He's spoken to them every year, and, of course, this was his last time. I suspect he is making a lot of sentimental type appearances before groups across the state. But what struck me the most came during the question and answer session. Of course, someone wanted the Governor to disclose what his future plans are. He indicated he probably wouldn't jump into doing anything right away, that for the first time in adult years, he might just take some time off. But he did indicate that he would likely get re-involved in public life (he didn't say public service) sometime in the not too distant future.
Getting back to the current governor's race, on the same day (Wednesday, June 9) both the Wamp and Ramsey campaigns touted news releases about endorsements.
Wamp reported that Dave Ramsey, "America's most trusted voice on money and business" has endorsed his campaign for governor. Ramsey, a nationally syndicated radio host and personal money management expert, and his wife will also be hosting a fundraising reception at his home for the Chattanooga candidate on July 1.
Ramsey has great name recognition and a very devoted following, especially here in Nashville and Tennessee where he began his media career. Having the same last name as one of your opponents is an interesting twist as well for Wamp.
However, sometimes timing is not always perfect. The Wamp endorsement came out within hours after it was reported that Ramsey's primetime TV show will be replaced on the Fox Business Network on cable TV beginning June 21.
As for Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, his campaign has announced that he is being endorsed by Joe Kirkpatrick, a former gubernatorial candidate who is now dropping out of the GOP primary. While I suppose this endorsement can further enhance Ramsey's chops as "the" conservative candidate, I don't see any indication that Kirkpatrick had a large amount of support, so how much help his endorsement would be seems small, at best.
The final endorsement came today (June 11) with UT Head Basketball coach Bruce Pearl endorsing Haslam. Given the large statewide fan base for the Vols, the endorsement probably has some chops that can help the Knoxville Mayor. On the other hand, there are already questions being raised by some who wonder about this endorsement given the very close association the Haslam family has had for many years (including financial gifts) to the UT Athletics Department and the entire University. Besides, there are lots of University of Memphis and Vanderbilt fans (and voters) in the state who might not care much for a Bruce Pearl endorsement about anything.
When I wrote last week's column, it looked the General Assembly would be long gone by now.
Both Houses had even passed a new budget.
But instead lawmakers came back to handle a few things.
Frankly, it usually not a good thing when our legislators decide to continue to meet after the budget is done.
Sure enough, the debate was more about political and election year agendas not good public policy.
Much of the week was dominated by two efforts, one to pass a resolution to applaud the State of Arizona and its recent new and controversial immigration law. It passed despite some satirical efforts to amend it (and defeat it) by opponents.
The other major focus of the week was a bill legislators had debated for some time this session. There were two different bills pending that would seek to opt-out the State of Tennessee and its citizens from being a part of the new federal health care. One of the bills would have required the State Attorney General to provide legal defense for any Tennessean forced to buy health insurance under the plan, even though the AG said clearly the whole bill was unconstitutional and likely illegal.
The chances to pass a bill on this topic looked dim when it died in a House subcommittee, but with the extra time at the end of the session, there was an effort to resurrect it. The problem was two Republican lawmakers (Senator Mae Beavers and House member Susan Lynn who are running each other in the August primary for Beaver's seat) could not reach an agreement over how to compromise the two bills they were sponsoring on this issue.
The fight went on for hours during the final day of the session. However, when they finally worked out a settlement in a conference committee, enough lawmakers (both Republicans and Democrats) had gone home for the night and the final bill failed to receive a constitutional majority (at least 50 votes) so it failed!
Another last minute attempt to resurrect a controversial bill came in the Senate, where supporters backing a ban on mountaintop coal mining (blasting off the tops of mountains actually) could not get any help from Speaker Ron Ramsey to bring up the measure. Ramsey, of course, had helped the health care opt-out bill, so opponent said he should do the same. But Ramsey said no pointing out that the measure had not made much progress in the House, so why bother with it this later.
But Ramsey's close fund raising ties to coal interests are also sure to be brought back up again on the campaign trail by the mountain top mining bill supporters as an effort to defeat Ramsey in August. However I would guess this is likely more of an issue among Democrats than Republicans.
So, in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, May 10, 2010 the second and final session of the 106th Tennessee General Assembly died with both a bang (of the speakers' gavel) and a bit of a whimper. In my book, anytime lawmakers are still here when the Fan Fair and Boonaroo folks are coming to town, they've stayed way too long.
Good riddance at last! We can use the hotel rooms for the tourists and the displaced flood victims!
I can't think of two better legislative reporters to discuss the 106th General Assembly than Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL and Joe White of Nashville Public Radio.
We have both of them as my guests on INSIDE POLITICS this week. We'll also take some time to look at the major political campaigns to come this summer and into the fall.
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