By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
August 29, 2008
Coming into the Democratic Convention I felt that Barack Obama and his party needed to hit a home run to get back in control of the game (the November election). I will wait for the public opinion polls to see whether that happened after this past week in Denver.
But it seems to me that Obama and the Democrats got at least an extra base hit after holding a convention that seemed to outwardly heal many of the party's wounds (strong endorsements from the Clintons) and set a tone, style and theme that could be very effective on the campaign trail this fall.
While the surprise appearance and speech by cancer-stricken Ted Kennedy was clearly the emotional highlight of the week, the speeches by the Clintons were the most critical to a successful week for the Democrats. Their endorsements of Obama seem quite sincere, if still more than a bit at odds compared to what they said on the campaign trail during the primaries. I am sure the Republicans will try to capitalize of that difference, but the key group Bill and Hillary Clinton were trying to convince were not necessarily independent or swing voters, it was their own supporters, who should be more than a little leery of anything coming from the Republicans.
Indeed I think Senator Clinton said it correctly in her speech. If you supported her campaign because of the issues and positions she stands for, it is impossible to then be for John McCain. They are on the opposite side of way too many issues for that to be intellectually believable. (More on that later in this column when we discuss John McCain's surprising VP pick).
For his part, Barack Obama and his campaign leaders at the convention seemed to bend over backwards to give the Clintons and their supporters more than their own Rocky Mountain High in Denver. From prime time speeches to a roll-call vote featuring Senator Clinton's name being placed in nomination, never has a losing primary candidate been given such a prominent profile at a national convention.
While I thought VP choice Senator Joe Biden struggled at times with a speech he had only a few days to get ready to deliver, he can clearly say things, especially in the area of foreign affairs and on issues important to groups like blue collar workers and Catholics, that Obama has so far needed some help to effectively articulate. Biden also looks more than ready to be an effective attack dog against McCain and the Republicans, much in the way most vice presidential candidates are expected to perform.
As we continue to learn over and over again this campaign year, what is considered most unlikely to occur becomes exactly what happens. Take Joe Biden. What kind of great odds could you have gotten on him being Obama's VP choices a few months back after the Delaware Senator had one of his famous "shoot from the lip" moments and talked how "clean" the black Democratic candidate is?
It was indeed an historic week in Denver, as for the first time a major national party nominated an African American to be President and did so in a week also filled with historic significance in marking anniversaries of both women's suffrage and the famous March on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
It is clearly a tribute to the supreme confidence Senator Obama has in his ability to deliver a speech that he decided to make his acceptance address, not only in a 75,000 seat NFL stadium, but to do so on the 45th anniversary of perhaps the greatest speech ever given by an African American, or any American for that matter (except maybe for President Abraham Lincoln with the Gettysburg Address).
Clearly this was another of the big risks Obama took at the Convention, and like his gamble to fully engage the Clintons, the speech has been playing to mostly rave reviews.
It brought together very well the overall themes of the convention: uniting the party; re-introducing Barack Obama and his family to try and dispel all the rumors about who they really are; portraying presumptive GOP nominee John McCain as out of touch; and tying McCain and the Republicans directly to the very unpopular administration and policies of President George W. Bush. As Hillary Clinton put it, McCain and Bush are political twins you can't tell apart but who are about to meet in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, where the GOP holds its convention this coming week.
In his acceptance speech, Obama showed he can deliver more than just soaring rhetoric; that he can also hit back and hit back hard against John McCain and the Republicans (although it was interesting to note all week at the convention, how before anyone said anything bad about Senator McCain, they always took time first to praise his patriotism and service to his country as a war hero and POW). Democrats have been waiting and pleading for Obama to hit back, and from the cheers coming out of Mile High Stadium, I think they liked what they heard. They'll like it even more if Obama can deliver a similar performance in the upcoming debates, although making a great speech and being a great debater are too entirely different communication skills.
In his speech, Obama also offered more specifics about his life story and his policies. And while this was an acceptance speech not a graduate course lecture, I think both efforts will bear fruit for him as he begins the fall campaign and the stretch drive towards the November vote.
So why does Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen continue to give little lectures to Obama through the media, criticizing his campaign style? The Governor kept doing it even at the Denver convention love fest. Does the Governor realize how harsh he sometimes sounds? While he may only be trying to be helpful, does he realize how much of what he is saying just reinforces the talking points being used against Obama by the GOP (and were also used by the Clintons during the primaries)? Does he realize that some folks are now wondering if all these media statements appear to coming from a Governor "pouting" because he doesn't feel he's been taken seriously enough by the Obama campaign either for Vice President or a future cabinet post? And will continuing to throw rocks at your party's nominee really do any good?
I can at least understand the continuing reluctance of Tennessee Democratic Congressmen like Lincoln Davis and John Tanner to endorse Obama. They represent very conservative districts where Obama has yet to connect with voters, so why stick their necks out for the Democratic nominee when he hasn't even visited this state for over a year? Besides, Congressman Davis is also looking at a statewide race for Governor in 2010 and if Tennessee remains a red state this fall, why get too far out on a limb for Obama anyway?
ANYONE SEE THIS COMING?
Sarah Palin, the little-known, 44-year old conservative Governor of Alaska, is John McCain's choice for his vice-presidential running mate.
Is it a brilliant stroke of political genius that will unite and galvanize the GOP as well as attract more women to the Republican ticket? Or is it, as Pat Buchanan says, one of the greatest political gambles in American history?
I think everyone would agree, it is certainly an "out of the box" choice, and one that has caught almost everyone by surprise. But hasn't everything this political year? Once again, what was considered completely unlikely is exactly what happens, leaving conventional wisdom, appearing neither wise nor conventional.
With the party conventions coming in back-to-back weeks, it is critical for John McCain's campaign to try and blunt any Obama bounce from his week of huge media exposure (the latest Gallup daily tracking poll had Obama up by 8 points on Friday, August 29).
So what to do? How about, as a first step towards retarding the bounce, have the McCain campaign doing something that has everyone talking about their VP candidate rather than the Democrat's convention or Obama's speech? If that was the objective, the McCain campaign seems to have succeeded from the initial reactions I am seeing and hearing following the GOP VP announcement today (Friday, August29). That means for now, coming right out of his successful convention, Obama could well be off the front page, and threatening to become yesterday's news.
While she is not well-known at all in the lower 48 states, the choice of Governor Palin seems to have galvanized the conservative wing of the Republican Party for the first time this presidential election year. They like her strong pro-life stand (including a very recent personal decision not to abort her fifth child, born just a few months ago with Down Syndrome). Conservatives also like her long-time NRA membership and her strong record as a government reformer and budget cutter as both a mayor of a small Alaska town and in her brief time as that state's Governor. She is also the only member of either party ticket with any kind of executive experience. Said one of my GOP sources, she is a true Reagan Republican, about the highest praise anyone can get in today's Republican Party. And I am sure John McCain likes her in part because of her reputation as a maverick and someone who has shown in her political career she can work across party lines.
I understand Palin's VP candidacy has been promoted heavily by Rush Limbaugh in recent weeks, and the FOX News Network in its first story about her selection called her "a rising star" in the party. Here is something else I found interesting about this VP choice. While making a Google search for Palin, I found an active blog site which since at least February 27, 2007 (the first posting I could find), has been promoting that Palin be selected or drafted to be VP.
The site is http://palinforvp.blogspot.com. The blogmaster is Adam Brickley, who says he hails from "the Rocky Mountain" region not Alaska, and, at least when he began the site, he said he had never met Governor Palin and didn't know anything about her until she won the GOP nomination for that's state highest post in 2006. He says the site has been totally unofficial and it has had no direct connection with the Governor. Brickley says he originally supported Rudy Giuliani for President, which is interesting given the difference in the former New York City's mayor's position on issues like abortion and gun control compared to what Governor Palin believes.
But you can sure, if Brickley and Palin haven't yet met, they will very soon, while hits on his blog site will go out the roof; media requests for interviews will come pouring in; and other bloggers will brag about this latest example of how the blogosphere can impact national politics (maybe, but my money say Rush Limbaugh probably had more overall impact).
However despite all the hoopla, there is a potential major down side for John McCain for this VP pick. He has made one his major attack points against Barack Obama, the Democrat's lack of overall government experience, especially in the area of foreign affairs. Picking your running mate is the first major test for a presidential candidate. It shows how he makes decisions and what he thinks is important (by the way, this year the process obviously shows both candidates can keep a secret if they want to).
But given all that, and given that the vice president is just a heartbeat away from the highest and most important political job in the nation, if not the world (an important point when McCain would be the oldest president to ever serve in office), what does it say about how important John McCain thinks foreign policy or experience in any part of the federal government really is by selecting someone for VP with no experience at all in those areas.
Doesn't it make it a bit tougher for John McCain to keep criticizing Obama for his lack of experience in these areas when his running mate has none at all? You can be sure the Democrats will press this point.
No doubt John McCain and his team assessed these pros and cons and felt that the good for GOP ticket outweighed any bad. This next week at the GOP convention will put that to test. The national media loves what it considers new, unknown candidates, at least unknown to them. So you can be sure they will be searching her background thoroughly and watching her every move and statement. She seemed to do well in her first remarks at the rally where McCain announced her selection. Her beauty queen looks will likely help, and she used to be a TV sports journalist so perhaps she is good on her feet. She will need to be when the vice presidential debate comes around with Democrat Joe Biden, who has decades of Washington and foreign relations experience.
By the way, there is a scandal of sorts in Alaska which has touched Palin's gubernatorial office in recent months. Those of us in Tennessee can relate to it in a way I guess, since it involves a State Highway Patrol officer there. J
Meantime despite all the media speculation to the contrary, one group I don't think will be influenced by McCain selection of a woman VP, are die-hard former Hillary Clinton supporters. As I said earlier in this column, if they supported Clinton because of where she stands on important issues, it would be very hard for them to support McCain I think, and impossible for them to support Palin, who is much more to the right than he is on these matters.
Now if the determining factor for support for former Clinton supporters is gender, then, obviously the Palin choice could well make a difference. And don't forget the "soccer moms" and other female swing voters, who are maybe a bit more conservative than the Clinton folks. Could Palin be an attraction for them to the GOP ticket? I am sure the Democrats will likely keep their significant advantage in the women's vote overall. But if McCain can cut into it that with Governor Palin, and keep the GOP's traditional huge majority with male voters, the Obama ticket could be in some trouble. It is much like what Obama has hoped to do with McCain among evangelicals, although the Palin choice likely makes that even harder to do.
As one person I talked to since the announcement said: "Wouldn't it be ironic if the perceived party of white men is the first one to elect a woman on its national ticket?" Agreed. But then it was Nixon who went to China, wasn't it?
Finally, as for this McCain-Palin ticket bringing some kind of hidden satisfaction to the Hillary Clinton camp, I think maybe not. If Obama loses, she would probably run again and maybe as soon as four years from now if a McCain administration is not successful or he leaves after just one term because of advanced age. But by then Palin, if she does well, could become a serious contender for the Presidency in the GOP, taking some of luster perhaps off Clinton's effort to be the first of her gender to become President.
Just when you think this presidential race is becoming predictable, both for now, and for its ultimate place in history, something new, and oh so interesting happens.
The Democrats are done. Now it's the Republicans' turn to hold their national convention. While all the talk has been about the issues of party unity on the Democrat's side (Hillary vs. Obama), the GOP faces it own share of problems as they meet in Minneapolis.
This may change in the wake of the Palin choice, but, poll after poll shows that Republicans are just not enthusiastic about John McCain as their presidential candidate. That can be a bad combination in a year when the overall Republican brand is suffering and the Democrats overall seem resurgent. Want another example? How about all the incumbent GOP Senators who say they are too busy trying to win tough re-election campaigns to even attend the Convention. Even Norm Coleman of the host state of Minnesota says if the Convention wasn't being held where it is, he wouldn't be attending.
Frankly, if you look at the roster of speakers the GOP has lined up you still have to wonder how it will help build party unity or enthusiasm, the Palin VP candidacy notwithstanding. Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic VP candidate will be on the podium, as will former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who ran a lackluster presidential campaign after starting out as the front-runner (and he's now the keynote speaker of the whole convention). Very few of the speakers are folks likely to fire up the all-important conservative base of the GOP. It makes you wonder just how well John McCain will do in putting his party strongly behind him while at the same time trying to reach out to independents and swing voters.
The GOP also has some eyeball issues with this convention. As we mentioned before because of the Olympics, there won't be the usual one or two week break between the two parties' national sessions. In fact, things are so squeezed together the first night of the Republican Convention will be on Labor Day, when most people are more concerned about lighting up the backyard barbeque grill than watching politics on TV. Is that why the GOP is putting President Bush's and Vice President Cheney's speeches on that evening, while people are watching some of the opening games of the college football?
Here in Tennessee, it could be a particular problem drawing a big TV crowd on Monday night, as that's also the evening the Big Orange of Tennessee is opening their season against UCLA. And when it's "football time in Tennessee" everything else takes second place. Things don't much better on Thursday night when John McCain makes his acceptance speech. Former UT star quarterback, Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts open their NFL season against the Washington Redskins. Even though kickoff times are earlier than usual, and the game could all but over by the time McCain makes his speech, this is still some tough counter-programming to deal with.
And, in a late-breaking development, Republicans need to keep a close eye on the Gulf Coast. With the third anniversary of Katrina just past and another potential hurricane bearing down on the same area, if another tragedy occurs on anywhere near the level of Katrina, can the Republican afford to be seen partying and wearing funny hats while people are suffering?
But the GOP has had little choice about when to hold its convention or in delaying it. Early voting in Tennessee begins just six weeks after the end of the Republican convention and even in a Red State like Tennessee, party activists say they will need all the time they can get to deliver their state for McCain.
These are some of the issues we discuss this week on INSIDE POLITICS as continue our conversations with Tennesseans who are playing an important role in their party conventions this year. Our guests are State GOP Party Chair Robin Smith, the head of the Tennessee Republican delegation, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, 22-year old Alex McVeigh, a recent Vanderbilt graduate and one of the youngest McCain delegates attending. In fact, he's been supporting McCain since the 2000 election when he was in the eighth grade and just 14 years old. Our final guest is former Nashville Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips, who managed the 1988 convention for President George Bush, the elder, and who has worked at every GOP convention since 1984. He is playing a major back-stage role in this year's convention and he shares with me his insights with about the role of conventions and what this current conclave means for the Republicans.
You can see INSIDE POLITICS every weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network. That includes:
6:30 PM Friday August 29, WTVF-TV, Channel 5 (a special edition)
7:00 PM Friday, August 29, NEWSCHANNEL5 Plus, Comcast Channel 50
5:00 AM Saturday, August 30 NEWSCHANNEL5 Plus
5:30 PM Saturday, August 30 NEWSCHANNEL5 Plus
5:00 AM Sunday, August 31 WTVF-TV, Channel 5
5:00 AM Sunday, August 31, NEWSCHANNEL5 Plus
12:30 PM Sunday, August 31, NEWSCHANNEL5 Plus
Also remember excerpts of this and other editions of INSIDE POLITICS can be found here on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website.
One final note: we had to tape INSIDE POLITICS early to accommodate the travel plans of our guests, so it was all done prior to the McCain VP announcement. Darn it!
THE GANG OF TEN
Could it be that when the Congress returns to Washington after Labor Day some kind of omnibus energy legislation will gain final approval?
Republican Tennessee Senator Bob Corker seems to think so. A few weeks back he joined the bi-partisan "Gang of 10" group of Senators, which has now grown to 16. These are both Republicans and Democrats who want to pass bi-partisan energy legislation that will result in as Corker's office puts it: "targeted, domestic production of energy resources; an intensive effort to transition vehicles to non-petroleum based fuels; and a robust federal commitment to conservation and energy efficiency. "
What a concept! Approaching a complex issue with a variety of solutions not just fighting over which one is best. But the devil still remains in the details and 16 is still not the 50 votes needed for final passage, much less the 60 needed to cut off debate and get down to a final vote.
HOLD YOUR MOTHER TONGUE?
As we told might happen in last week's column: Before its English First on the November ballot, it will be a lawsuit first in Metro Chancery Court come September.
The Davidson County Election Commission, citing a ruling from the Metro Legal Department, has refused to place the English First Metro Charter amendment (requiring all city business be done in English) on the ballot because, by a mere three days, it fails to meet a Charter requirement allowing amendments by petition be put before the people only once every two years. Keep in mind, voters approved an amendment by petition in November of 2006 to require all future property tax rate increases be approved by the people.
All this has Metro Councilman Eric Crafton, who has spearheaded the English First effort, going to court with a lawsuit to reverse the Election Commission decision. But time is quickly running short. Because of early voting requirements, especially providing voting materials to those out of town or overseas who want them, the official ballot must be finalized no later than mid-September. Lawsuits like this (and their appeals) usually take a lot longer than that.
So what will happen? Anytime a matter is in court, you speculate on its ultimate outcome at your own peril. But I would say the city's legal opinion seems a bit thin to me. It is hard to imagine that our Metro founding fathers were really splitting hairs that finely when they drafted the Charter to allow changes by voter petition and referendum only once every two years. Three days is not likely the key issue. It's when the petitions were filed and that was clearly within the two-year requirement. No one is more opposed to the English First proposal than I am, but I am dubious this Metro Legal effort will do anything but stir up more voter anger and mistrust, and just add to the majority English First will pass by whenever it gets on the ballot.
And if it doesn't get on in November when could it be considered? Good question and perhaps a very expensive one. There are no elections planned in this county during 2009, which means, unless there is a very expensive special election held, it would be the spring of 2010 before the matter could be settled by the voters. That's also provided Crafton redoes his petition drive. The Legal Department says the voter names he submitted specifically asked that the matter be put on the ballot this November, so they are no good if it doesn't make it on for this coming election.
And the number of signatures Crafton will need to get the matter on the ballot will be much higher next year or in 2009, than it is now. It's based on 10% of the number of voters in the most recent general election, and that number could be very high indeed after the November presidential vote.
I have a hair-brained idea. There's some chance that Metro will need to hold a special election referendum on raising the property tax rate late next summer. If so, and it's legal to do it, why not put the English First amendment and the property tax vote on the same ballot? It might save taxpayers the cost of holding an extra election. And remember there could also be a lawsuit over the legality of the property tax amendment if and when a tax vote is proposed next year. Isn't government by referendum wonderful?
I know there are those of you who are enjoying watching Eric Crafton have to spend more time and money (a million $$ he says) to get his proposal on the ballot. Will most of that also come from out of town sources? Could be, but all this government by referendum is sure creating a legal and political mess, isn't it? And remember if Crafton win his lawsuit, taxpayers will wind up paying the full cost of this litigation, including Crafton's expenses..
Today (August 28) is Ann Robert's last day as a Metro employee. While she has more than earned the retirement she now begins, our city will be the poorer for her leaving.
During her many years as the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Historical Commission, Ann has been a stalwart in defending and preserving Nashville's history and built environment. What she's done and stood for has not always been popular, especially with some in the development community. But imagine a Nashville without Union Station, without the Ryman Auditorium, the Customs House or the warehouses along Historic Market Street (2nd Avenue)? During her career, Ann Roberts helped Nashville preserve those historic structures and hopefully protect them for years to come. And it's not just downtown. The annual Preservation Awards given by the Historical Commission each May have continued to grow in importance and in the number of entries each year, as preservation and renovation have something you see throughout the community where ever there are historic structures.
Ann will be the first to tell you, she didn't win all her battles. But she fought the good fight, and at least brought about community debate about the role of historic preservation in Nashville's future. And she always did so with southern charm and great dignity.
A lesser known story about Ann Robert's work is the key role she and the Historic Commission played in helping to create and nurture Nashville's vibrant and growing neighborhood association movement. Back in the early 1980s, there were only a few organized neighborhood groups in Nashville and none in the emerging historic districts. With Ann's help that began to change and the results today, over a quarter century later, are obvious and much to Nashville's overall benefit.
That's why who will replace Ann Roberts is such a critical question for our city. It should be someone with more than just a love of history or for Nashville (although certainly having a local background and understanding of our community would be a major plus). It needs to be someone who is well schooled in historic preservation, a growing field of academic study, including at MTSU among other schools. Frankly, it is an area of academic learning that was only being to develop the last time Nashville was in the market for someone to head its Historic Commission. But it is training we need for Ann's successor. By the way, it will be the Historic Commission's job, not the Mayor's or the Metro Council's to pick that person. Nevertheless, the Mayor offering is assistance in helping the Commission identify and hire the right candidate I think could go a long way towards repairing the very wrong image of him as being too-pro-development.
In the meantime, Ann tells me she plans to travel with friends and spend more time with her family, and especially her grandchildren. I can relate to that. I also treasure her friendship over these many years, dating back to when I was a reporter here at Channel 5. More than anything else, I join with so many Nashvillians who treasure what Ann Roberts has done for our city to preserve its history and the best of its built environment for so many years, and, hopefully, for so many years yet to come.
The mountains beckon me to rest from my labors for a while. Barring something major happening in the news, the next CAPITOL VIEW column will be Friday, September 12.
Have a great Labor Day holiday!