By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations
October 10, 2008
A BELMONT DEBATE RETROSPECTIVE; CBS' BOB SCHIEFFER HELPS INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AHEAD TO THE FINAL DEBATE; THE STRUGGLES WITH TENNESSEE'S REVENUES GET WORSE; TV ADS, LAWSUITS AND ROTO CALLS
The Presidential debate at Belmont is history.
It was clearly a shining moment in the political spotlight for Belmont and the city of Nashville. (I was going to say in the political sunlight, but it rained way too much for that. Who knew that presidential debates were also drought busters?)
But did the debate here have any real impact on the race for the White House? Many observers are saying it was boring. Actually, I didn't think it was any worse than the Ole Miss debate. I started looking at my watch (ala President George Herbert Walker Bush) at about the same time in both debates (shortly after it was half way finished).
I think these debates have become so scripted and controlled, they don't leave anybody happy. Lots of folks tune in, such as I mentioned in my last column about the VP debate, because they want to see the car crash, the train wreck, the mistake that becomes a defining moment in the campaign. That didn't happen at Belmont.
At the same time, those tuning in the debates looking for where the candidates stand on important issues are also left frustrated, because it is very difficult to explain your thoughts about very complex issues like economy , and do it in 2-minute answers and 1-minute discussions or rebuttals. So the candidates revert to the safety of their talking points and their stump speeches and also usually ignore the time limits. Sometimes they even avoid the question all together to talk about something else.
Belmont and Nashville were the only clear winners in the second debate, proving the city (with a new convention center and a few more hotel rooms) is ready to host the next big national political event, a party nominating convention.
As for the candidates themselves, nobody landed any knockout blows or made any big mistakes. But with only one debate left, John McCain did not do anything to change the focus and momentum of the race, and so that leaves Obama as the winner, especially since the voter polls afterwards show Obama continues to make the bigger improvements in his "does his look presidential?" numbers than McCain.
I thought McCain's strategy was odd. In his first answer, he came out of the starting blocks strong with his new plan to have the government buy up all the bad mortgages in the country. Then he walked away from it the rest of the night, and did nothing to put Obama on the defensive. Now that more details are coming out about McCain's proposal, even he has kind of been backing away from it, as the fiscally conservative parts of the GOP are not happy at all with this kind of additional government intrusion into the private sector. Even Obama has come back with criticism, saying the new McCain plan could wind up rewarding the bad behavior of those who have helped create the financial mess this country is now facing. By the way, prior to the Belmont debate, that was what McCain had been saying about buying all the bad mortgages. Ouch.
Obama also got some more licks in after the Belmont event, by saying if the McCain campaign wants to continue to use its "guilt by association" tactics (such as Obama's relationship with his former minister, with a former radical domestic terrorist from the 1960s and a convicted Chicago politician), why didn't he bring it up to Obama's face on stage during the debate? McCain didn't, leaving it to surrogates until yesterday (October 9) when he too started mentioning it himself on the campaign trail.
So will McCain bring it up in the third and final debate? Will he start doing more TV attack ads on this subject? Will it work to change the campaign and the momentum of Obama? So far, Obama's polls must say no. While the Obama camp quickly brought up to counter McCain's attacks his past involvement with the "Keating 5" as a part of the 1980s savings and loan scandal, other than one day of talk, Obama's not pushing it. That will change if McCain ever find something to throw against the political wall and it begins to stick with the public.
Right now, the focus for both the candidates and the country is the ever-worsening condition of the economy. And even here McCain can't get much of a break. We've talked before about how unusual it is for the candidates to be out of the main spotlight as the election campaigns come down the home stretch. But that's what happened the last few weeks with the spotlight on a lame duck President and a lame duck Congress.
Now Congress has gone home and left President Bush to be in the spotlight, making nearly daily pleas to the country to remain calm and have confidence in the economy and the markets. So far, it's not working very well. Stocks continue to slide, and every time Mr. Bush comes on it seems to remind the country of what a failed presidency he has had.
It may not be fair, but John McCain is developing his own "guilt by association" problems as President Bush is someone McCain once admitted in one of his TV ads that he voted 90% of the time for his programs over the last eight years.
McCain wants this race to be a referendum on Barack Obama, about whether he is ready to lead or can be trusted as President. The economic problems the nation faces threaten instead to turn the race into a referendum on President Bush, and that's a fight McCain probably can't win.
I am also beginning to hear and see stories from the campaign trail about what appears be rising voter anger at campaign rallies, especially the McCain-Palin events. Some commentators, such as the well- respected CNN commentator David Gergen quoted in a CNN article today (October 10) are even openly expressing fears of violence. Let's hope it never comes to that from either side as this sharply divided country approaches the end of another heated presidential election.
Meanwhile, adding to all the other problems he faces is the fact that McCain is fighting the campaign on the defensive and with not nearly as many resources as Obama in terms of dollars and campaign organization. The states left to be decided are mostly traditional Republican areas, but where Obama is close enough McCain must commit his resources or face disaster. McCain is limited in his dollars by taking public funds. Obama is not taking public monies and continues to amaze everyone at how he is raising unheard of amounts of monies, mostly from small donors, and the Republican National Committee seems to be struggling to help McCain make up the difference.
It should be pointed out that I have still seen no polling that indicates Obama has the 270 electoral votes needed to win. In fact, even with some polls showing him at 265, it's based on a lot more states "leaning" his direction rather than solidly in his corner. So the race is still to be won, even if the momentum and movement in the race still seems to solidly favor Obama.
We are so pleased to have CBS Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer as our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week. He came by the studio while he was here to cover the Belmont debate, and he gave us his thoughts about the status of the presidential race and about how he is preparing to moderate the third and final debate at Hofstra University on October 15.
Schieffer has a very interesting new book out. It's a compilation of his commentaries over the years called BOB SCHIEFFER'S AMERICA. Like Bob himself the book is very conversational and easy to read. And it's surprisingly up to date especially since several of Bob's commentaries go back 10-15 or 20 years. I guess Washington and our politicians don't change that much. I highly recommend buying Bob's book.
Our other guests this week are two local journalists who spent several weeks covering the Belmont debate: Colby Sledge of THE TENNESSEAN and Ken Whitehouse of NASHVILLEPOST. COM. You can see and hear their reflections on the importance of what happened at Belmont and some of the inside stories of being in Spin Alley and even inside the Curb Events Center while the debate was going on (Colby was so lucky).
You can catch INSIDE POLITICS every weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK:
Friday, October 10 7:00 PM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50
Saturday, October 11 5:00 AM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Saturday, October 11 5:30 PM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sunday, October 12 5:00 AM NEWSCHANNEL5, WTVF-TV
Sunday, October 12 5:00 AM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sunday, October 12 12:30 PM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Join us! TiVos, VCRs and DVRS welcome too!
THE RAINY DAY FUND
The rainiest day in Nashville recently was not the deluge that struck the Belmont debate Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
No, the darkest storm clouds were at the Capitol where Tennessee Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz said the state's financial picture is already so gloomy (even before calculating the impact of the latest Wall Street meltdowns) that the Bredesen administration will have start looking at using the state's ample "Rainy Day Fund" to keep Tennessee state government operating and providing critical services in the months to come.
In the meantime, Goetz has already informed state higher education leaders to look for more ways to cut back on their budgets. All this in the wake of declining tax collections that are already $150 million below the very conservative projections made earlier this year.
These comments about further cutbacks and even dipping into the Rainy Day Fund are not all that surprising given what has occurred in the national and world economy is recent days, but they do stand in stark contrast to the Governor's statement a few days earlier that perhaps the state would be able to avoid layoffs arising out of last year's budget cutbacks. The Governor is rightly concerned about the position state workers would be left in if given the ax. Finding any job is getting tougher all the time. But if we are dipping into the Rainy Day Fund I would say, stay tuned, and all bets could be off as far as what next year's state budget holds. Could another round of employee buyouts also be on the table? And will there be any takers at all this time?
State lawmakers specifically asked the Governor to hold off on any layoffs until the new General Assembly comes back to Nashville in January. Now who knows what they will face when they return and find the state's financial challenges once again squarely in their laps?
TV ADS, LAWSUITS AND ROTO CALLS
With the Belmont debate over, it's back to being pretty quiet on the campaign trail in Tennessee. The biggest excitement could come from Federal Judge Robert Echols as he considers a request by Clarksville State Senator Rosalind Kurita to reinstate her on the November ballot.
She claims the Tennessee State Democratic Executive Committee wrongly voided her 19-vote primary victory over Tim Barnes last August. Democratic officials defend the action saying the outcome of the race was incurably uncertain because of undue Republican influence on the election and other problems at the polls.
Courts are usually reluctant to intervene in party politics, so it would be unexpected if Kurita prevails. A decision by Judge Echols in this case will have to come very soon (in fact, he says he will rule sometime the week of October 13). With early voting starting on October 15, election officials will really be under the gun to get any ballot changes made if mandated, and does anybody know how they would handle the overseas ballots, which I suspect have already been mailed? And what if Senator Kurita loses but appeals the case and later wins?
If Senator Kurita doesn't win in court, she will have to put all her hopes on maintaining her seat in the Senate by winning a write-in effort against Barnes November 4. Again, that's another tough putt for her to make successfully. The Kurita race remains particularly important because of how evenly divided the State Senate is in terms of Republicans and Democrats. While both these candidates are Democrats, if Kurita returns she is likely to once again support Republican Ron Ramsey to be Lt. Governor and Speaker, while Barnes would support a Democratic Senator for that post.
It depends on how the other contested Senate races turn out, but the Clarksville Senate vote could again be crucial as it was two years ago when Kurita crossed over and first earned the enmity of Democrats statewide that has led to her hotly contested effort to win re-election.
On the other hand, it's still pretty quiet in the statewide race for the U.S. Senate between Republican incumbent Lamar Alexander and Democrat Bob Tuke. Tuke did try and take advantage of having Barack Obama in town, getting a public endorsement from him (Tuke was an early supporter of Obama) and getting his picture taken with him, which Tuke's underfinanced campaign immediately e-mailed across the state. Hey, do the best you can with what you got right? A joint TV ad would be nice too. But it appears the Tuke campaign is still scrambling to find the funds for a late minute TV ad blitz of its own.
Tuke is also trying to draw Alexander out by accepting a debate offer from a media outlet in Jackson and challenging Alexander to join him (which I would say is doubtful, if for no other reason why would Alexander want to give Tuke that kind of increased visibility and name recognition). But regardless of how it turns out, the debate challenge gives Tuke something else to talk about, and maybe get more exposure in the media.
That's no problem for Alexander, whose first TV ad hit the airwaves in the last week or so. What a contrast to the last U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, when it was impossible for weeks on end to turn on a TV set in Tennessee and not see ad after ad for either Bob Corker or Harold Ford, Jr.
The Alexander ad is remarkable in several aspects. A good bit of the spot is built around one of Senator Alexander's favorite sayings from the late Tennessee author/ historian Alex Haley: "Find the good and praise it." There's a lot of praising in the Alexander ad. In fact, at a time, when incumbents on the federal level all across country are on the defensive, this ad (with narration provided by Nashville guitarist and song writer Steve Cropper) seems almost gushy in implying how thankful voters should be for Alexander's many years of public service as Governor, Secretary of Education and now as Senator, working with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done in Washington.
Interestingly, the ad does not say whether Alexander is a Republican or a Democrat (if you'd dropped in from outside the state and didn't know, you couldn't tell from watching the spot). That's in sharp contrast to six years ago when Alexander made it clear he wanted voters to send him to Washington to help President Bush. So much for the GOP brand this election season even in a red state like Tennessee
Alexander is also not afraid to show how many years he's been in politics, with photos and videos in the ad showing a much younger Lamar than how the Senator appears today.
When you are a Tennessee political legend I guess you can get away with doing that.
Nashville Congressman and Democrat Jim Cooper is another elected official favored for an easy re-election in November. But his Republican opponent from Mt. Juliet, Gerard Donovan is not going down quietly. Twice in the last week I have gotten a roto-call political message on my home phone (one with a women's voice, the other recorded by a man). Both are railing against Cooper for his recent vote in favor of the Congressional bailout bill. The inference in both calls is that both Republicans and Democrats are unhappy and should come together to send Cooper a message and defeat him November 4.
I know there is a lot of public anger about that legislation and so far, its passage sure hasn't had any impact to improve things. But I still remain to be convinced that Donovan really has much chance to defeat Cooper on November 4, but the roto-calls are interesting. It's the first time I have ever received one from the Republican congressional candidate in this district. But, when you think about it, they are cheaper than TV ads.