By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations
October 3, 2008
NASHVILLE DEBATE INTEREST HUGE; INSIDE POLITICS BRINGS BELMONT PERSPECTIVE; CONGRESS TO THE RESUCE, FINALLY; 2010 POLITICS ALREADY BUBBLING UP
We are headed towards an event next Tuesday night (October 7) that is un-paralleled in the history of Nashville.
The eyes of the nation, even the entire world, will be on our city, and in particular Belmont University, as we host the second presidential debate between Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama and Republican candidate Senator John McCain.
I know Nashville has hosted the Grammys, several top-level sports events and even had several of its major political leaders seek the Presidency (particularly Al Gore, who placed his national campaign HQ here in 2000), but nothing is grabbing media and public attention like this event October 7 at Belmont.
Local excitement seems to be going out the roof. How about these TV rating numbers for the two debates already held (one, the presidential debate in Oxford, MS, the other the VP square-off in St. Louis)?
Nashville was one of the top TV markets in the nation in terms of watching the Ole Miss presidential debate, the combined rating for the September 26 event (from all 8 sources broadcasting the proceedings) was a 40.6, equating to 412,293 local homes watching. That's impressive, especially for a Friday night, which is usually not one of the bigger nights for TV viewing.
Thursdays are usually a very good night for TV watching, and that may have been one of the reasons the VP debate, between Republican Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska and Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware was 30% higher in this market than the Presidential debate.
Wow! That's strong, as the combined rating this time was up to a 53.0, the equivalent of 537,747 Nashville area households. Multiple the number of homes by a factor of about 2.3 persons watching in each home, and you can see how of lot of your neighbors spent last Thursday night and probably how they plan to spend next Tuesday.
I could sense the building local excitement myself. I had many more friends and colleagues ask me about the VP debate than they did a few days earlier about the presidential debate. Now some of that is due to the next debate being here in Nashville. But I think some of it was because of what one friend called "the reality show" factor.
Everyone knew that both Sara Palin and Joe Biden have a history for gaffes, and they wanted to tune in (like some people watch NASCAR) to see who was going to veer off the track first and hit the walls in flames.
Turns out neither one did, allowing Palin, in particular, to greatly exceed the very low expectations most observers, including several prominent conservative GOP columnists, had for her coming into this event. So did the Republicans manage once again (as they did with George W. Bush) to trick the Democrats into thinking they were facing a real lightweight, only to see the Hockey Mom return at full strength, performing again the way she did at the GOP Convention, and not like her recent network TV interviews?
Maybe, although talking to some Republican sources, I think her problems with the Republican media "intelligentsia" is not likely to go away because of her debate performance. And there's the question of how the McCain-Palin campaign will handle the overall mainstream media the rest of the way? Did her comment during the debate about speaking in the future "directly to the American people" mean no more one-on-interviews? And what about the press corps on her campaign bus?
I think Palin proved in her debate performance that if she is allowed to be herself, she can handle the direct questions, and she even get off some pretty good zingers against both Biden and Obama. The question that remains to be answered is: How well can she do with follow-up questions, especially the ones seeking more details and specifics. That's where she has gotten into trouble so far on the campaign trail, and the VP debate really didn't give us much opportunity to measure her strength in that area of political communication.
As for Joe Biden and the Democrats, they can feel pretty good about the job he did in the debate. No mistakes and, most importantly, he won the after-debate polls by large margins. He also handled the potentially tricky matter of how to debate a female opponent. Too hard with your comments, you look like a sexist pig, too soft, you look like a wimp. The solution for Biden was to focus on John McCain, not Palin, although after a while you could see her comments and retorts were bugging him. Still, he managed not to take the bait and to continue on his mission to tie the McCain-Palin ticket to the Bush administration. He also managed not to let Palin throw him off at the very beginning of the evening as they came on stage when she asked him if it was OK if she called him Joe. He said yes, but, I don't think she ever called him by his name all night.
Getting back to the Nashville debate, John McCain must figure out how to get back some momentum October 7. The voter polls showed he lost the debate to Obama in Oxford September 26. Even though most of the debate was supposed to be on foreign affairs (a McCain strong suit), McCain allowed Obama to appear nearly his equal, a major coup for Obama. While McCain was a good debater and stayed on the offensive against Obama, forcing him often to say he agreed with the Arizona Senator, the voters seemed to be looking for something else in grading the debate. It appears some were turned off at McCain's seemingly angry-look as the evening wore on and what appeared to be his constant attacks on his opponent. Sometimes what works in college debates to win and score points, may not turn out the same way in political debates.
The Obama ticket seems to be slowly moving ahead in the national polls and in several key battleground states, especially as the problems in the economy continue to worsen. McCain has already pulled his staff and TV ad campaign from Michigan, conceding that state to Obama. Many of the remaining battleground states are also areas that have been traditionally Republican. So add it up (and available money is a big factor), and it seems McCain needs a game changer and Nashville may be the next best place to try and do something to turn it around.
But just what does he do? We'll see. The format in Nashville could be a big help. The town hall setting and taking questions from voters is something McCain has done for years and he is very comfortable doing it. Obama seems to have less experience with this format, and if he comes across as verbose or talking down to voters, that could hurt him and open up an opportunity for McCain to get back in the hunt.
Nashville needs to really enjoy the spotlight coming from the debate. It's like a flower blooming in the desert. It won't last long. Come Wednesday morning, all the campaign staffs and media will be leaving and we will be back to being a non-battleground state (strongly red for McCain, although Nashville is likely to be strong for Obama), leaving us again as a backwater in the overall presidential campaign. Except for Tuesday night: I wonder what presidential history awaits us that evening?
One final word on this subject: If you are excited about the presidential race, but aren't registered to vote, there's still time to do something about it. The deadline to sign up is Monday, October 6. Do it, and then please don't forget to vote, or, in spite of yourself, you'll get the government you deserve. J
If you are looking for a political pre-game warm up show on the Belmont debate this weekend, be sure and tune in my INSIDE POLITICS show.
We have Democratic strategist Larry Woods and Republican guru Chip Saltsman to give us their take on where the campaign stands and the crucial role the Belmont debate could play in shaping the rest of the race.
We also have Vanderbilt communications studies professor Dr. Vanessa Beasley and Belmont political science professor Dr. Nathan Griffith to talk about the historic importance of presidential debates and how these candidates should prepare for the big event at Belmont.
You can watch INSIDE POLITICS every weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network, including a special time this weekend on the main channel on WTVF-TV at 6:30 PM Saturday night (October 4). Here's our full schedule:
Friday, October 3 7:00 PM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50
Saturday, October 4 5:00 AM, NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Saturday, October 4 5:30 PM, NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Saturday, October 4 6:30 PM, NEWSCHANNEL5, WTVF-TV
Sunday, October 5 5:00 AM, NEWSCHANNEL5, WTVF-TV
Sunday, October 5 5:00 AM, NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sunday, October 5 5:00 AM, NEWSCHANNEL5, WTVF-TV
Sunday, October 5 12:30 PM, NEWSCHANNEL5, PLUS
Watch us and don't forget, if you don't have Comcast or live outside the Nashville TV market, you can watch excerpts from previous shows here at NewsChannel5.com
Well, it took almost three weeks to get it done, and it sure wasn't pretty, but Congress now has its bailout or rescue bill for the economy and President Bush has signed it into law. Will it work? Who knows? Is everyone mad about it? You bet.
The President asked the Congress to be bi-partisan. It sure wasn't that in its deliberations, but at least in the final vote it appears some cross-party agreement has been reached. However, during much of the debate, the only thing bi-partisan was that both sides, at times, showed just how dumb they could be.
Let me count the ways: The original 3-page bill proposed by the President, which was woefully inadequate; how the measure was pitched and explained to lawmakers and the public (it took a while to get folks to realize that this was not just a bailout for financial crooks, that Wall Street and Main Street are so interconnected that quick action was vital to avoid an overall economic disaster); House Republicans who twice scuttled compromise bills, once embarrassing their President at the White House, the second time damaging their presidential candidate, John McCain, who suspended his campaign to try and round up GOP support for the bill, but obviously failed; Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stupidly ad-libbed partisan comments during a speech on the House floor that angered Republicans and led them to vote against one of the compromise bills; the House Republicans again for admitting that they voted no because of Pelosi's comments, leaving them wide open to criticism that they put their personal feelings ahead of what might be best for the country.
Finally, Congress solved the problem the way they always do in Washington: they added enough pork (earmarks), tax breaks (including continuing Tennessee's sales tax exemption) and made some additional tweaks to the rescue plan (increasing federal deposit insurance, for example) that the votes were finally secured for passage.
Of course, the continuing economic and credit meltdown going on across the country and the world also seemed to help persuade lawmakers to support the final rescue of the rescue plan (as examples: a record one-day decline in stocks on Wall Street that cost investors over a trillion dollars; rising unemployment; more bank failures; an increasing credit crunch that is squeezing businesses, students, car sales and even state and local governments).
But voter anger is likely to be awhile in subsiding, and may flare up even more if this plan doesn't work. If it does fail, all lawmakers can do now is hope that is not apparent to their constituents until after the November elections.
It always happens like this.
The approaching end of one election cycle (2008) sparks speculation about the next cycle (2010).
So it is that the Mason-Dixon polling firm has released a new poll, commissioned by the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS. It found that former Tennessee U.S. Senator Bill Frist has a voter name recognition number of 93%, and that 58% of respondents view him favorably.
That can't be good news for Democrats if Frist decides to run for Governor in two years. And it sure helps to explain why others in the Tennessee GOP don't want to take on Frist in a primary battle in 2010, especially since he is also likely to have a big money and fundraising advantage in any race.
Questions about just how interested Frist is in being Governor may arise again after the recent (October 3) NASHVILLE CITY PAPER article by Nate Rau which reported that Frist is working with former Bush top advisor Karl Rove to help raise money for Republican U.S. Senate candidates this year. Frist has been very successful with this kind of effort in the past. In fact, it helped get him elected Majority Leader, cashing in on the political IOUs he earned from the Senators he helped elect. But what has an effort like this got to do with being elected Governor? Not much directly, although it could also be an indication Frist still harbors a desire to run for national office (President) in the future. How he would do that in 2012 after only 2 years as Tennessee's governor seems a little tricky to me, but he is a young enough man to look up to 8 years down the road if he needs to for a future national campaign. That's how it works in politics: lots of money can give you lots of options.
Several of other possible GOP gubernatorial candidates have name recognition factors that are much lower than Frist's (Congressman Marsha Blackburn 56%, Congressman Zach Wamp 52%, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam 37% and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey 36%). However, if Frist decides not to run, you can see a pretty competitive GOP primary race could be brewing.
It is a bit surprising to me that Senator Frist's favorable numbers are as high as the poll indicates. Being out of Washington and away from the Bush administration has probably helped that. You can bet the Democrats will be trying to stir up voter memories of the failures of the Bush years if Frist is in the governor's race, especially if they can just find a find a strong candidate to get into the field.
While incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen remains stronger than political green onions according to the Mason-Dixon poll (with a 65% approval rating), his party seems to be lacking a strong choice to succeed him (Bredesen is term-limited after eight years). Former Memphis Congressman and 2006 U.S. Senate candidate, Harold Ford, Jr. has some very interesting numbers in the Mason-Dixon survey, 94% name recognition, but only a 37% favorable recognition number. But is Ford really interested in this 2010 contest, particularly if there is an Obama administration in Washington?
But if it is not Ford, the Mason-Dixon poll doesn't have a lot else to offer Democrats in 2010. Democratic Congressman Lincoln Davis, another possible gubernatorial candidate, has a 55% recognition factor (not too bad for a two-term member of the House on a statewide level), while the poll gave no numbers for former State House Majority Leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville, who also is exploring a possible gubernatorial run.
One final political note and getting back to the 2008 election: you are about to see something very rare in Tennessee this year. It's a TV ad for our U.S. Senate race.
Incumbent Republican Lamar Alexander is unveiling the ad to reporters later today (Friday, October 3), after this column is filed. They wanted to keep what the ad says under wraps, so they wouldn't let me have a sneak peek. I am not sure why they want to be so cautious.
Alexander has a Democratic opponent, Nashville lawyer Bob Tuke, who is running an energetic, but woefully underfunded, campaign. It will be interesting to see if the Tuke campaign, all but abandoned by the Democratic national ticket and the party's Senatorial Committee, can scrape up enough money to mount any kind of TV campaign.
Tuke has tried to gin up some visibility in the earned media area. He called for the firing of the Bush Treasury Secretary for the way he has handled and responded to the current economic crisis. But one day news story is just that....one day. Senator Alexander has been in the news every day in his Senate role to help pass the economic bailout package....and most of it has been positive.
Late last week, Tuke also released a poll late claiming to show the Alexander lead in the Senate race has been cut in half (50%-38%) and was even smaller (down to 3%) after voters knew more about the candidates. But not many people put a lot of faith in this kind of poll (usually called a push-poll). And, even if the poll is correct, the Tuke campaign doesn't seem to have the money to inform voters on a statewide basis about why Tuke would be a better Senator. So it remains an uphill fight for Tuke to "take the hill."