Capitol View Commentary: Oct. 17, 2008 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Oct. 17, 2008



By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence Public Relations

October 17, 2008


The debates are over.

Now it's up to the Presidential candidates to get out their vote. If you want to know what states are still in play, watch where the candidates go to campaign and where you see their TV ads.  Right now, the contest is putting John McCain on the defensive, having to spend time and a lot of his limited remaining money to protect key states that are normally safe Republican areas, but now remain in play (and even some where Barack Obama has a lead).

For the first time in recent days, CNN has projected that Obama has enough solid and leaning states in his favor that he would exceed the magic 270 electoral margin needed to be elected (if the election were held right now). Some recent tracking polls show Obama consistently staying at or just about 50% support or a majority of the electorate.

Obama also seems to be holding his advantage in the polls on key questions such as: "Who would do the best job with the economy?" which is, by far, the biggest issue with voters. Meanwhile, McCain's numbers have declined in recent weeks on these same public perception issues (according to the latest Associated Press poll, 10/17) perhaps in part due to the ongoing problems of the economy and the negative nature of McCain's recent campaign ads to try and catch up with Obama.

It's pretty clear now that the juxtaposition of the debates and all our recent economic difficulties have hurt McCain (the Obama charge that he is just four more years of Bush is sticking), while the debates have given Obama the opportunity to allay voters fears about what kind of person he is and what he might do as President.

Now the outcome of this race is still far from certain. Obama is correct to tell his supporters: "Don't get cocky." That's especially true regarding several of the voter demographic groups (young people, Hispanic and African Americans) he is heavily depending on to win his race. They are known to show great gusto about registering to vote but then forgetting to show up and cast a ballot. There is also the question of "The Bradley Effect". Will Obama underperform his poll numbers just as the black Mayor of Los Angeles did some years back, losing a race for Governor of California he seemed certain to win? It also happened to Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gann running for Governor in North Carolina, but it didn't seem to happen to Harold Ford, Jr. here in Tennessee in 2006 (even though he lost his race, as well). 

So do white voters lie to pollsters about voting for black candidates?  Does Obama need to be at least 8-9 points ahead in the polls on Election Day to pull it out? Or do we really have enough data to measure this so-called "Bradley effect" and are we sure it wasn't other factors in the polling that led to them being wrong about the Bradley and Gann races? Or are Obama and his organization just different from what has come before?          

About the only things in the current polling that could be encouraging for the McCain campaign is what appears to be a slight tick downward for Obama in the national tracking polls in recent days (from as high as an 11% lead a few days ago now down to 6% on the day this column is being written). With tracking polls, don't get hung up on the exact margin. These kinds of polls do a better job of showing movement in a race, not margins.

Still this may be something for McCain to use to bolster his supporters and keep them from giving up. McCain himself, both personally and politically, has been given up for dead and managed to bounce back several times in the past.  If he can do it again in the next 2 ½ weeks, it would be his most remarkable comeback ever.

In some ways the current campaign positioning reminds me of the 1968 race with Democrat Hubert Humphrey tied to a very unpopular President (Humphrey was Lyndon Johnson's VP), yet he managed to find a way to move away from the President in the final weeks (get help from an October surprise when LBJ stopped bombing North Vietnam) and tighten up the race to point where he lost just by a whisker on Election Day to the "new" Richard Nixon. But that was then, and this is now. McCain may face an even more daunting task than Humphrey, and he's likely still awaiting his "October surprise," if there is one to occur.  

While Obama won the last debate in the opinion polls (making it a clean sweep of all three debates), it appears the lasting take away from the Hempstead, New York Presidential debate (and by far the best debate in terms of content) was the emergence of "Joe, The Plumber", a real live voter in Ohio, who was invoked frequently by McCain to outline his opposition to what he says will be Obama's tax increases on small businesses. Using personal examples is always helpful in making one's points and "Joe, The Plumber" has gotten more than his 15 minutes of fame in the last few days (including some disclosures about a lien on his home for not paying property taxes that I am sure he would just as soon not have disclosed to the world).

I have a particular interest in "Joe, The Plumber" because my father's name was Joe, and he was a plumber. I can tell you (even adjusted for 30-50 years of inflation) my dad never got close to making $250,000 a year (the level at which any Obama business tax hikes kick in) and apparently neither does "Joe, The Plumber", so I am a bit puzzled why his case remains so important to the McCain campaign. I guess it does give Sarah Palin and the Senator something to talk about besides attacking Obama (which doesn't seem to work).

But already, at least at one rally, Palin is asking her aides out loud on the platform, if she can please have at least one speech where she doesn't have to talk about the Plumber. Usually, when a candidate is sick is talking about something that means the message (whatever it really is in this case) may be beginning to sink in with voters. I guess that's another talking point down the drain for Camp McCain, which continues to struggle to find a consistent and winning message.

One final note, I don't know if this will qualify as an October surprise, but there sure is a lot of speculation about a possible presidential endorsement by former Bush Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell. While endorsements don't mean as much as they used to, Powell's could be different in its impact, especially this late in the political cycle.

 Powell was once looked upon as the first African American who might occupy the Oval Office. If he endorses Obama, as some speculate he might, the impact is likely to broaden and solidify the Illinois Senator's bid for the Presidency.  Conversely, if Powell endorses McCain, it would be a major boost for McCain just when he really needs it, and a disappointment for Obama.   


On INSIDE POLITICS this weekend, we take a look inside the November 4 vote. First, we have an expert panel analyze three important demographic groups in this year's election: African Americans, Hispanics and young people.

Dr. Omar Ali is a Vanderbilt History professor who has written a book called "In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third Party Movements." He believes there is an alliance of blacks and independent white voters who have helped propel Obama to the brink of the Presidency. He does believe there will be a very strong African American turnout for this election, especially given the potential historic implications of this vote.

Tim Chavez is a former columnist for THE TENNESSEAN. He now writes for the Hispanic Link News Service ( He believes Obama needs to continue to boost his already high levels of Hispanic support (from 67% to closer to 70%) if he hopes to win swing states like Colorado and Nevada. Chavez believes Hispanic voters are ready to go to the polls with the economy, not immigration reform, being their top issue.

Sarah Hornbuckle is a junior at Vanderbilt University, where she is also vice-president of the local chapter of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment, a national non-partisan group which seeks to break down access barriers to students voting. That includes helping them register and even providing rides to the polls for early voting and on Election Day. She believes young people will turn out and vote this time and their vote could be very important in the final outcome.

In our other segment, our guest is Brook Thompson, Tennessee's Election Coordinator. Despite Tennessee being a state that is not in play nationally (other than the Belmont debate, neither of the candidates have spent much time or money here), Thompson believes we are on the way to setting records for voter turnout, both for the early vote and for overall turnout.

Mr. Thompson also talks about his confidence in the state's voter registration rolls (despite the problems in other states with registration efforts by groups like ACORN) and the changes coming by the next election (2010) to install a new set of voting machines that will leave a paper trail for the ballots to help ensure every vote is accounted for and counted.

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network:

Friday, October 17...........7:00 PM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Saturday, October 18.......5:00 AM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Saturday, October 18........5:30 PM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Sunday, October 19...........5:00 AM NEWSCHANNEL5, WTVF-TV

Sunday, October 19............5:00 AM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Sunday, October 19............12:30 PM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Join us and don't forget, if you don't have Comcast or live outside the Nashville area, you can see excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here at


One of the questions I asked Brook Thompson is about the procedure to do a write-in vote.  That's critical to current State Senator Rosalind Kurita, who lost a court challenge last week to be reinstated on the November ballot. Kurita won re-nomination in the August primary by 19-votes, before the State Democratic Executive Committee threw it out (because of too much Republican interference in the process they said) and gave the nomination to her opponent, Tim Barnes.

Kurita is appealing her court loss, but it doesn't appear likely she will get the outcome changed before November 4, so she is also pursuing a write-in effort. Again, this is a tough job, although Thompson says it is now somewhat easier to do a write-in than in the past because you can do it on the voting machine, and not by asking for a separate ballot.

But Thompson also told me there could be some procedural differences in the three different counties that make up this Senate district, primarily because they may not all use the same kind of voting machines. That could create still more disincentives for Kurita's efforts. This is a contest whose outcome could shape the future leadership of the next Senate and therefore it has become the spotlight race to watch on Election Night here in Tennessee.

Kurita has been able to keep and attract a good bit of financial support and endorsements, so that will help, but it remains to be seen if enough voters are mad enough about the primary outcome and/or motivated enough to take the extra time and effort it will require to vote for her November 4.


While everyone has been arguing for months about the English First amendment to the Metro Charter (now set for a special election vote January 22), almost nothing has been written or said about the two amendments the Metro Council has placed on the November ballot.

Amendment One really needs to be passed to ensure our Metro budget process is done as efficiently as possible. A couple of years ago, the Council proposed an amendment that gave them an extra two months to consider the Mayor's annual budget. They felt the six weeks they had then (from May 25 to July 1) was just not enough.

But moving the budget filing date up to March 25 has not worked very well. For one thing, revenue projections aren't very good that early, especially what will be available from state government for schools and other services. So as a compromise, this new amendment moves the budget filing date to May 1, still giving the Council more time to look at the mayor's spending but also giving the Mayor and the Metro Finance Department a better shot at presenting a plan that is based on accurate revenues and needs. That could particularly important this coming year due to the countywide reappraisal that will changed the tax rate. This amendment should be passed.

The other amendment, Amendment Two, is another effort to modify the city's term limits provisions adopted overwhelmingly by voters in 1994. Like the other efforts at change, this one is likely to fail as well. That's too bad because the changes being proposed are good ones, on the whole.

 The current term limits for the Metro Council members are two terms or 8 years. However, the law is so strict, that if someone serves even a day in office (filling out someone else's term) that counts for an entire term.  This presently impacts 5 or 6 council members. So the amendment says if someone serves less than half a term, they can serve two more additional terms.

That seems reasonable to me, but then, I am not a fan of legislative term limits. I think it weakens legislative bodies unnecessarily, especially since turnover in the Metro Council was pretty healthy before term limits kicked in. I believe voters need to decide who stays and who goes in the Metro Council, not some arbitrary rule.

But I doubt this amendment will pass. One reason for that is that the amendment specifically says that the office of Council Member- At- Large and District Councilman are separate. Therefore someone who has served two terms as an At-Large member would be free to run and, if elected, serve in a district seat and vice versa.

That issue was unclear in the original term limits amendment, and no one knew for sure what would happen until a district council member, Charlie Tygard, ran and won an At-Large post in the 2007 elections. When the matter went to court, he won and this charter language would make that clear. However, lots of voters may not agree with that court decision and if they reject that language and the amendment, it could mean more litigation on this matter in the future.

There is also voter (and media anger, if you read THE TENNESSEAN) about how the Council has voted itself and former members health insurance coverage. That alone could defeat this term limit change. It could also defeat Amendment One I fear, if voters (many of whom don't even know these matters on the ballot) go into the voting booth, discover these amendments written in legalese language no one really understands, and the voters just vote no on everything.

That would be a shame, but it could happen.


We've talked before about the ambitious agenda Mayor Karl Dean seems to be setting for himself in the second year of first term as Mayor.

He clearly wants to push forward to promote more regionalism in our government, especially in the area of transportation. The Mayor told me recently on INSIDE POLITICS that he plans to ask the General Assembly next year for the ability to set up an ongoing, secure funding source for a mass transit system to serve Nashville and the surrounding counties.

That's an ambitious undertaking. Anytime you talk about a permanent funding source (some kind of new tax or tax increase) there are always risks, but the Mayor may have raised the stakes even higher the other day when he reportedly said at a mayoral forum down in Williamson County that the present structure of 95 counties in Tennessee is artificial and "pretty old." "We need to be thinking big," he added.  

The Mayor couldn't be more right about having too many counties. But he couldn't be more wrong to bring it up while he's trying to get legislative agreement on a funding source for mass transit. The current county structure was set up back in a day when it was important that everyone be at least within a day's buggy ride back and forth from the county seat. Seen any buggies around the courthouse lately?

It doesn't matter. What is important is that there are now 95 sets of local officials who have a pretty strong vested interest in keeping the status quo, no matter how people get back and forth to town. And you know they will be telling their friends in the legislature that. Combine that with an ongoing fear in the outlying counties of "Nashville is trying to take over," and the Mayor may be damaging his own efforts to build support for funding for a regional mass transit system. Even though he's right about our antiquated system of county organization in this state.

NewsChannel 5 thanks Pat Nolan for providing this column every week. Mr. Nolan's commentary reflects his own opinions, not those of the NewsChannel 5 Network.  Comments about Capitol View should be sent to Pat Nolan directly via email at  

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