Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 6, 2012 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 6, 2012

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CAPITOL VIEW

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

January 6, 2012

THE GOP MUDDLE; INSIDE POLITICS; STATE REDISTRICTING;

While quite a bit has happened in the GOP presidential race since I last wrote this column back before Christmas (Newt Gingrich's demise as the front-runner, the sudden rise of yet another new "anti-Romney" candidate in Rick Santorum), the results of the first votes being cast in the Iowa Caucuses earlier this week, while dramatically close between Romney and Santorum (only 8 votes difference, with Ron Paul a close third), the results did little to change the overall balance of power in the race (other than convincing Michelle Bachman to withdraw).

It's still Romney as the marginal frontrunner (some say a weak one) with several more candidates (Santorum, Paul, Gingrich, Perry, Huntsman) seeking to be the last one standing to take on Romney and try to beat him one-on-one.

Now with Iowa just beginning to fade into the rear-view mirror, New Hampshire is just ahead on the campaign trail next Tuesday (January 10), followed before the end of the month by likely pivotal primaries in South Carolina (January 21) and Florida (January 31). And the pace doesn't ease up much during February, March, April and March.

Will the nomination be decided before those final months (or even before we vote here in Tennessee on Super Tuesday March 6)? History says yes. But this campaign cycle has not exactly been following anybody's historical pattern. Here's my take on the race on a candidate-by-candidate basis:

ROMNEY

For Romney, it likely all comes down to whether he can put together a string of victories to go with his "win" in Iowa. I say a "win," because Romney actually didn't do a whole lot better vote-wise in Iowa that he did four years ago (when he competed more strongly but still finished out of the money). The latest Iowa finish also seems to once again point out that he just can't seem to get over the hump of getting more than 25% to 30% support in a GOP poll or with voters. But a win is a win and if Romney can follow that up by winning or finishing strong in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, momentum will kick in (along with his superior funding and organization) and he will be the Republican nominee.

New Hampshire should be a lock. In a state next door from where he used to be governor, Romney is pulling up to 40% of the vote in some polls leading up to next Tuesday's balloting. He also now has the strong endorsement of a two-time winner of the New Hampshire primary, Arizona Senator John McCain. While it appears it will be a tough, nasty contest in these final days in New Hampshire with Romney attacked by his opponents on all sides (as they attack each other as well) the only way it seems Romney "loses" in the Granite State is if his margin of victory somehow falls down below double-digits.

There's not much time for that to happen. But if it does, one sign of it could be if you see or hear Romney starting to respond to his opponents' attacks and lob back attacks of his own against his GOP competitors rather than focusing all his fire (as is now) against President Barack Obama. Of course, as he did with Gingrich in Iowa Romney could just leave such attacks to surrogates (which is already happening) or to his Super PAC with some more well placed TV attack ads.

If Romney wins in New Hampshire, he will be the first Republican in modern times to win both Iowa and New Hampshire, further building his momentum heading to South Carolina, where the candidate is already spending time and resources, and has the support of the state's Governor. The latest South Carolina poll (released by CNN/TIME today, January 6) shows a real boost for both Romney (37%) and Santorum (19%) while Gingrich is down to just 18% after leading the last statewide poll in December.

This latest poll is very good news for Romney if the numbers hold. South Carolina is the state, along with Florida that gave the nomination to John McCain in 2008. If Romney sweeps them both, he could do the same in 2012.

But it may not be as easy as it seems.

SANTORUM

Riding the crest of his surprisingly close second place showing in Iowa, Rick Santorum's campaign announced it has raised millions of dollars following that contest. He's also risen to double digits in the polls in the next state to vote, New Hampshire, as well as nationally. That's the good news.

The bad news is that he is now a major target for attack by his opponents vying to be the not-Romney candidate, while the national media is giving him the usual full treatment (and vetting) of everything he's ever done in his life. So his strong stance on hot button social issues, as well as his forthright support of congressional set asides (among other things), will be among several topics for attack. Already slips of the tongue on the stump are creating issues and negative news stories.

Santorum is campaigning in New Hampshire as the underdog (after all, he is). But New Hampshire also has a history of loving underdogs so it might have some chance of success, especially combined with his repeated stories on the campaign trail about his own blue collar, working class upbringing. That also contrasts with Romney's silk stocking lifestyle and background. I think Santorum will let his opponents do a lot of the attacks on Romney. He has to be careful about that. He endorsed Romney for President four years ago.

If Santorum finishes a respectable third (double digits) in New Hampshire, he will survive. Should he edge out Ron Paul for second, his surge may gain more strength. Even though he is from Pennsylvania heading south later in the month to South Carolina and Florida will help Santorum, especially South Carolina where his appeals to the conservative, evangelical and Tea Party votes will offer some fertile ground. He may also gain strength from the reported declining popularity numbers of South Carolina's governor who outraged some Tea Party folks by endorsing Romney.

South Carolina appears to be Santorum's best chance for a victory (although the CNN/TIMR poll shows he has a long way to go). He will need to win either there or Florida to stay alive. His greatest difficulty (assuming his money keeps coming in) is building his organization and support on the fly. One thing that might help him is highlighted in a recent Associated Press story (January 6) which indicated national conservative leaders, (who can't and won't support Romney) are working hard to join together to identify a single candidate to take on and beat Romney. Right now, the AP story indicates these conservatives want to unite behind Santorum. If that happens and the field narrows, it could really be "game on" as Santorum said in his election night speech in Iowa.

GINGRICH

Here is a candidate breathing fire and brimstone after his fourth place finish in Iowa. Newt Gingrich blames Romney for his descent in the polls and his poor showing in the Hawkeye State after the Romney-related Super PAC buried him with effective TV attack ads.

Look for the sparks to really fly beginning this weekend, when the next debate occurs. No more Mr. Nice Newt, no more history professor. He looks like he is going for the throat just to pay back Romney and he probably has the money left to do it. And he also has the endorsement of the most influential newspaper in the state, which could also help with some favorable press for him, and unfavorable for Romney. While at first saying nice things about Santorum on Caucus Night in Iowa, that seems to be changing a bit on the campaign trail in New Hampshire.

Gingrich could have yet another comeback in him, but if he does, like Santorum, it will have to occur in either South Carolina or Florida, if he is not forced out before then by those now almost desperately seeking a way now to stop Romney.

PAUL

For much of Caucus Night in Iowa, Ron Paul flirted with or had the lead over both Romney and Santorum. He faded a bit at the end, but he too got a bump out of this state. I saw a recent story in the WALL STREET JOURNAL that the real strategy of the Paul campaign will be focused on winning the states that select their delegates, like Iowa, by caucus. That's with the plan of winning a majority of delegates in at least four delegations to give Paul a seat at the table to help draft the GOP National Platform at the convention (remember those) and to make him a possible power broker if the convention heads towards deadlock over choosing a nominee or a vice presidential candidate.

The strategy has some feasibility, since Paul seems to always do well in caucuses and straw polls because he has such loyal even fanatical supporters. By the way, by my count, there are at least 12 remaining states which use caucuses in their process to select delegates.

Now, don't expect Paul to fade away from competing in primaries. He has plenty of money and he is throwing more political elbows than anyone out on the campaign trail and with his TV ads and direct mail pieces. Ron Paul can't win the nomination, but he remains someone to be recognized. I heard more than one commentator Election Night in Iowa, saying the GOP ignores Ron Paul at its peril, especially with all the energetic young voters he is attracting.

RICK PERRY

Ever since he announced, it's been all downhill for Rick Perry, especially after his early performances in the debates. His poor fifth-place finish in Iowa had him telling reporters Caucus Night that he was "reassessing" his campaign.

But after returning to Texas the next day, he had decided to stay in, although smartly spending his time now down in South Carolina and Florida to build a possible comeback. Perry still has the money to do it. But can he change his terrible first-impression image with GOP voters?

I'd say doubtful, but his staying in the race is important as it does help Romney because it continues to split the anti-=Romney vote.

HUNTSMAN

Trying to pull a "John McCain" in New Hampshire or duplicate what Rick Santorum just did in Iowa, John Huntsman has been living in the Granite State. Will "being there" with lots of shoe leather retail politics jump start Huntman's campaign? It has seemed to have boosted his poll numbers to third place in some polls in New Hampshire. But that was before the Santorum rise. While he pulls from a different group of voters than Santorum (more moderates like Romney), Huntsman needs a "better than expected" finish in New Hampshire to stay viable.

INSIDE POLITICS

If you want some additional perspective on the presidential race join me on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. Our guests are Chip Saltsman (a Republican consultant), Larry Woods (a Democratic consultant) and Judson Phillips (Head of the Tea Party Nation).

Here are some highlights to whet your appetite. To get reluctant conservatives to come to his side, Chip Saltsman believes Mitt Romney must act boldly to excite the base, including naming his VP choice early. Meanwhile Judson Phillips says no matter what Romney does many Tea Party advocates will never support Romney as the GOP nominee. As for the Democrats and its incumbent president Larry Woods says there must be a clear indication or trend that the economy is improving by no later than summer, or Barack Obama will likely not be re-elected. In that regard there is some news about that for the President as the latest economic figures show 200,000 jobs were added last month (December) lowering the overall unemployment rate from 8.6% to 8.5%. It doesn't sound like much but it is the lowest unemployment rate since February, 2009, which is the month after he took office nearly three years ago. For the year the country added 1.6 million jobs which is also an improvement over 2010 when only 960,000 were created.

So there could be a trend there. But there are several more months to go, and any backsliding could be really bad for the Obama administration.

As always, INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV. It also airs several times on NEWSCHANNEL 5 PLUS, including 7:00 p.m., Friday night; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday.

THE PLUS can be seen on Comcast Cable channel 250, along with Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2

TENNESSEE REDISTRICTING

After months of rumors, speculation and closed door meetings, Tennessee Republican legislative leaders have unveiled their plans to reapportion the state's house, senate and congressional districts. This must be done every decade to line up with the new census numbers.

Not surprisingly the way some of lines have been redrawn are causing controversy, especially in the state house with Democratic leaders (out of the power to control or even have much input into these matters for the first in modern Tennessee history) being the most upset and even threatening lawsuits about minority representation not being treated fairly or legally.

It is too early for me to tell if the Republicans overreached in redrawing the lines regarding minorities, but I know they employed for assistance some highly touted and respected consultants with previous experience in how to do this. So I doubt this is amateur hour.

As for how the Republicans redrew the lines putting Democratic lawmakers together in the same districts or Democrats into a district with GOP incumbents, that's just politics, including redrawing the districts so they favor Republicans as much as possible. And you can be sure the same is true for how they redrew any new districts without incumbents. The lines will favor the GOP as much as possible.

However I would say the case of putting two long-time Democratic lawmakers (Sherry Jones & Mike Stewart) does seem a little strange. Republican leaders said they had to do in order to meet the changing demographics and population increase is southwest Democratic where a new open district has been created which has a combined minority population (black & Hispanic) that presents an opportunity to increased representation for those groups (as they put in redistricting language).

OK, but when you look at the map, you have to wonder why Jones who lives well south of the Cumberland River was drawn into a district with Stewart who lives east of the river. In fact, it appears there is just a little sliver of land encompassing the area that Stewart lives that was moved into the district where Jones is as well. That doesn't look like demographics, it looks like politics. That's fine, just call it that; call it an effort to pit two leading Democrats in the Nashville delegation, to try and get rid of one of them from the General Assembly (unless somebody moves quickly).

At least they have an option to move. One Republican Senator (who must be on someone's bad list) got redistricted into oblivion. Senator Kerry Roberts from Springfield ( up for re-election this fall for a seat formerly held by Congresswoman Diane Black) was moved into a district with another incumbent Senator Jim Summerville. The problem for Roberts is Summerville was just elected last year so his race is not set for another three years. Oblivion

What makes the matter even more bizarre is that according to an on-line article by THE TENNESSEAN's Michael Cass (January 5) Governor Bill Haslam had hosted a fund raiser in Green Hills for Senator Roberts less than 24 hours before the new proposed district maps were unveiled. The invite even included nice remarks from some of his GOP colleagues about what a great job he is doing and how they looked forward to serving with him in the years to come. Well, maybe not now, I guess.

Of course, it's not surprising there would be controversy in redistricting in our state. It was a federal lawsuit that began in Tennessee back in the 1950s (Baker v. Carr) that led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling mandating redistricting every ten years under the principle of "one man-one vote." It was also our first U.S. President from Tennessee, Andrew Jackson (a Democrat) whose administration coined the phrase "to the victor belongs the spoils," after he was elected to office back in 1828. Translated simply, it means the party in power gets to make the rules and draw the lines, at least within the somewhat broad guidelines laid out over the years by the courts.

It took a few extra days, but GOP legislative leaders also released their plans for how to redraw our nine congressional districts. It too has its controversies but at least on paper looking at the map, the new districts don't resemble the many salamanders and meandering, lizard-shaped districts we've seen in the past. They also appear to each be contained within one the three grand divisions of the state, not sprawling all over the place and wandering from state border to state border.

But that's geography. In terms of politics, you can be sure these new congressional districts will favor the GOP wherever possible. But in saying that, it also appears (as Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey told me on INSIDE POLITICS a few weeks ago) that the Republicans decided not to push their luck in trying to change the lines to add to their 7-2 state congressional majority, but instead try and make sure they can keep the seats they have for years to come.

For the first time in several cycles the present delegation was not given any input or advance knowledge about their redistricting process. That led to some hurt feelings and tension. But for the most part, it appears things have worked out.

After waging a public media campaign, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Democratic 5th District congressman Jim Cooper got what they wanted in keeping Davidson County/Nashville in one district. In fact they did even better bringing the entire the county back into one district for the first time in years, along with all of Dickson County and parts of Cheatham. That's probably a fairly safe district for Cooper (especially since he lost his portion of Wilson County which produced most of his GOP opponents). It also gives Nashville one strong voice in Congress rather than have it split up into several districts and lose influence as Mayor Dean feared.

Probably 6th District Congressman Marsha Blackburn didn't like losing those largely GOP boxes in Nashville, but she also lost some areas down around Memphis that her supporters have always feared would unite behind a primary candidate one cycle to defeat her.

I am pretty sure Congresswoman Diane Black likes the way her new district looks. She is keeping her strongest areas up north near her home in Gallatin, while losing the part of the district (Rutherford County) where her strongest primary opponents came in 2010 when she captured the seat.

Now those potential candidates, including Tea Party favorite Lou Ann Zelnick along with State Senators Jim Tracy and Bill Ketron will have to decide soon whether they want to take on first-term GOP incumbent Scott DesJarlais this fall. With the addition of Rutherford County to the largely rural 4th District, any of them could potentially give DesJarlais a stiff challenge. Republican leaders in the General Assembly did not do DesJarlais any favors.

You can expect quick action to approve these redistricting plans when the General Assembly returns to town Tuesday, January 10. And while the Democrats may complain, ask for talks, seek compromises, even threaten lawsuit, I would expect these plans to change much, if at all.

As I said, "to the victor belongs the spoils" as this matter was more or less determined in November, 2010 when voters approved these numbers electing----64 GOP members in the state house along with just 34 Democratic members and 1 independent along with 19 GOP state senators to 13 Democrats.

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