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Capitol View Commentary: Fri., Oct. 26, 2018

Posted at 3:14 PM, Oct 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-26 16:15:32-04


Tennesseans are presently casting their early votes to choose our next governor. While there are many candidates on the ballot, the race will come down two people. One of them is Democratic candidate Karl Dean. He’s our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week. With candidates going everywhere, all over Tennessee, to capture last minute support, we are pleased to have him with us. Karl Dean is no stranger to our program based on the eight years he served as Mayor of Nashville when he was a frequent guest.
Watch us! 

The show will air at 6:30 P.M. Friday night on the main channel of the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK, WTVF-TV.  

It will also air throughout the weekend on our regular schedule on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS.
Those times include:
7:00 p.m. Friday;
5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday;
1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday. 

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2. 
One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.

One other program note: We are scheduled to have Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee as our guest on INSIDE POLITICS next week (the weekend of November 2-4). 

Just over a week in, early voting is continuing statewide at levels so high the numbers look more like a presidential year than a mid-term election.

As of Friday (including Thursday numbers) the statewide early vote and absentee total is 809,912. Through 9 days that’s an average of close to 90,000 votes per day. Staying with that average, the total early vote might go as high as 1.3 million by the end of November 1.

 Who does this larger than expected early voting turnout help? This NASHVILE POST story seems to say it’s not Democrats. Does that mean bad news for statewide candidates such as Phil Bredesen and Karl Dean? 

Maybe, but note the head of the group who did the original early vote analysis says he doesn’t agree with the NBC story which is the basis of the POST article. 

Don’t forget to click through in the attached story to see in detail the national early vote impact according to this analysis. Again, if it’s correct, it’s not good for Democrats in the states surveyed.

Going back to the early vote numbers reported by the Tennessee Secretary of State, some counties like Wilson, deep-red in its recent voting patterns, have already set an early voting record for a mid-term election with days to go.  I suspect more counties will report the same soon.

Nashville’s early voting has been up over 2,000% (not a typo) in its early turnout compared to 2014 which should give Democrats some reason to be hopeful. Shelby (98,115) and Davidson Counties (94,115), the two bluest counties in deep-red Tennessee are also running #1 and #2 in the early and absentee voting so far.  Combined, 192,493 voters have cast ballots in Davidson and Shelby out of the 809,912 reported statewide. That’s about 25%of the total vote cast so far for what it’s worth. 

The Top- Ten voting counties in Tennessee (based on an article written by former TENNESSEAN editor and reporter Jim O’Hara which I linked in a recent column), are leading the way again. They are so far providing over half the early and absentee ballots. The top ten are Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Blount, Montgomery, Rutherford, Sullivan, Sumner and Williamson.

You can monitor the early and absentee vote totals statewide and county-by county at the link below.

The focus of national news this past week seems to continue to favor Republican Marsha Blackburn. That includes the caravan of thousands of Central American refugees headed towards the U.S. border. President Donald Trump is vowing to stop them, even threatening to use the U.S. military to seal the border. 

THE TENNESSEAN reports: “On Monday, Blackburn's campaign ratcheted up the issue, calling the migrants an "illegal alien mob" in a news release.”

Bredesen's campaign said Monday in a statement that Blackburn was "fear-mongering" and using immigration as a "wedge issue." Bredesen also said in a TV interview that the caravan does not represent a national security issue.

In a campaign release, Blackburn said: “These comments demonstrate how out of touch Phil Bredesen is with the Tennesseans he seeks to represent. There is a right way to come to this country, and there is a wrong way to come to this country…. Phil Bredesen would like to roll out the welcome mat for them, hand them a state-issued, taxpayer funded driving certificates, and get them to work for his campaign.”

As to the impact of these apparent pipe bombs being sent to Democratic leaders and critics of President Donald Trump, it is still too early to say what impact this will have on the mid-term elections. Of course, this hasn’t stopped those trying to weaponize the issue and use the would-be bombs to stir up their political bases. It is a new low in the battle to maintain any kind of civility in our national political discussions.  

Before the pipe bombs came to light, recent polls showed President Trump’s approval ratings are their highest ever (although still historically low nationwide). Overall since Tennessee is a state where the Mr. Trump has positive poll numbers, this is another reason the Blackburn campaign should feel encouraged.
But then there is this fund-raising e-mail that went out this week from Camp Blackburn. It says the Senate race is still in a “statistical tie” and the Congressman needs more funds as her campaign is trying a “new strategy” and plan for its TV and digital ads.

Here’s the text of the fund-raising piece courtesy of THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL’S ON THE HILL blog:
“Date: October 22, 2018 Re: 15-Day

Strategy Team-  We are now 15 days out from Election Day and 4 days into Early Voting.

As you know, many of the polls coming out have demonstrated a dead heat—a statistical tie—and we are in need of a new strategy to put us over the edge.

Based on the trends we’ve been observing, we need to hit our target audiences harder, so we’re going to push more digital ads and have mapped out a new plan for TV ads. We’re going to need more resources, so we crunched the numbers – huge shout out to the finance team for getting that done.

The bottom line: We’re going to need to raise $22,876 a day through the end of this month in order to finance our new strategy.

We need all hands on- deck for this effort, so we’re asking you to reach out to your grassroots networks, families, friends and anyone you know of who is willing to help us out. Marsha has authorized 4X matching for this effort, so get after it! Here’s the link to donate:
The Chuck Schumer-led Democrats are pulling out all the stops to prop up Phil Bredesen. We know that the D.C. and New York and California Democrats have been sending their checks to Phil since day 1 of his campaign. Tennesseans deserve a Senator who represents their values, not those of the war chest operators.”

Indeed, my information says Blackburn is increasing her TV buy for next week, the final full week of the campaign. I am also told that GOP Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell is taking a more direct role in the campaign. That includes his Super PAC investing another $2 million in attack ads against Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, and even telling the candidate herself she needs to smile more.
 The McConnell move to put more money into Tennessee has led Democratic activists to renew their charges to federal election officials that there has been “illegal coordination between McConnell’s Super PAC, the Marsha Blackburn for Senate Campaign, and two other (outside) groups.” The Blackburn campaign continues to deny the coordination charges and it is doubtful any decision will be made on the Democrats’ complaint prior to the November 6th election. 

Meanwhile, even though most national election analysts see the chances for a Democratic takeover of the Senate to be increasingly remote, THE WEEKLY STANDARD had an article published Tuesday that asserts Tennessee remains the pivotal Senate race.

Here’s a NEW YORK TIMES article from Monday. It cites the COOK POLITICAL REPORT and says Democratic chances to take the Senate are trending down, including here in Tennessee, with Democratic chances declining since the controversy over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Tennessee Democrats point out that if Republicans are doing so well in this state, why are national Republican leaders such as Lindsay Graham coming to Tennessee? Senator Graham will be at a campaign event for Blackburn at Chaffins Barn in Bellevue on Sunday. 

What about President Trump or Vice President Mike Pence? Will either or both be back in Tennessee between now and November 6? There are reports the President will be here before Election Day, possibly the day before on November 5 in Chattanooga. If he is coming, it’s because Team Blackburn thinks she still needs help to win the race. The selection to campaign in Chattanooga is a sign she needs help most in traditional Republican-East Tennessee. With Chattanooga visit also being close to Georgia (especially the north Georgia TV market), will it mean the President will also try to reach out to help in that state’s tight governor’s race?

The national media polling pundits see the Tennessee Senate race this way (as of Friday early PM):
538---Likely Republican, Blackburn with 76.5% chance to prevail or 7 chances out of 9. Projected margin for Blackburn of 50.8%, with a range of a high of 55.4% to a low of 46.2%. Bredesen a 23.5% chance to win or 2 chances out of 9. His projected vote is 46% with a range of a high of 50.5% and a low of 41.3%. says one article on the site about the Senate races: “Although the polling has been mixed in Tennessee, most of it has gone against Democrat Phil Bredesen.”

CNN---Tossup: Forecast GOP (Blackburn to win): Says Harry Enten of CNN POLITICS: “My best estimate gives Marsha Blackburn a five-point win. The worst case for Marsha Blackburn is to lose by 7 points. That means Marsha Blackburn is favored, but the margin of error is wide enough that we shouldn't be surprised if Phil Bredesen comes from behind.”

Real Clear Politics (an average of polls)—Blackburn by 6.5%.

With early voting starting to wind down, most campaigns are still looking for last minute opportunities to convince undecided or on the fence voters to come over to their candidate’s side. I told you in last week’s column that Phil Bredesen would try to use his latest “big idea” to make hay in the race.
He’s now released two new TV and digital spots to push his idea to lower prescription drug costs. Health care is often the top issue identified by voters, and usually it ranks no lower than second or third in voters’ minds.

Lowering prescription drug costs is not the easiest thing to explain in 30 or 60 seconds. But notice how candidate Bredesen does it, and how he positions himself to do it by working with President Trump. (30 second spot) (60 second spot)

His campaign says Bredesen has been “blitzing” the issue on the campaign trail all week.  Look for these new ads to appear frequently on the air, on line or in your Facebook feed between now Election Day. With two lengths available, I wonder if they will be double trucked (run twice in the same commercial break) to give them extra visibility and repetitions for voters and to break up all those attack ads?
As for President Trump, he is not likely say he is open to work with Phil Bredesen on the issue of lowering prescription drug costs. But a new plan the President outlined this week (Thursday) moved quite a bit towards Bredesen’s plan. Blackburn, who has supported almost every proposal from the President, earlier called the Bredesen proposal “a publicity stunt.”

As this past week continued (Wednesday), the NEW YORK TIMES ran a second major story about the Tennessee race. It proclaims: “Mr. Bredesen may be running the most cautious, high-profile Senate campaign of any Democrat in the country.” The article then takes in-depth look at Tennessee’s history of producing moderate national leaders and whether this Senate contest represents the end of that political era. The story also contains interviews and some very interesting comments from Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and Governor Bill Haslam.
Another national media outlet, VOX sees the Tennessee Senate race with this headline on an article published Thursday: “DEMOCRAT’S NEW BET: BORING CAN WIN: “

Of course, back on TV and in on-line ads, the off the wall, digital attack ads continue. Here’s one paid for by the Family Research Action group.

The Tennessee Senate contest literally became a race this week with a new TV ad from the Blackburn campaign. It features an endorsement from retired NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip who has endorsed several Republican candidates in recent years.

In addition to Waltrip, NASHVILLE POST has an article showing both Senate camps are getting celebrity help down the stretch. Says the article:
“Bredesen, the former governor and Nashville mayor, on Monday will appear at a rally with Grammy Award winners Keb’ Mo’ and Kirk Whalum. The event at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis is sold out, according to the Bredesen campaign.

Bredesen previously hosted an event with musicians Jason Isbell and Ben Folds. Blackburn enjoys the support of country singers John Rich and Trace Adkins.”

The Bredesen campaign is also holding a party at Nissan Stadium this weekend (Saturday, October 27) to celebrate 20 years of the Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Predators being in our state.  A Bredesen campaign release says:
“Days before Halloween, as well as the last day to vote early in Tennessee, the Bredesen for Senate campaign is reminding Tennesseans that there’s nothing scarier than forgetting to vote.

This get-out-the-vote event is open to the whole family. Activities will include balloon animals, face painting, and other activities. The Bredesen Bash starts at 5:30 PM CT and will cost $5 per adult. Children under 18 will get in for free. Fans are encouraged to wear their Preds or Titans gear. 

During his time as mayor, Phil Bredesen led the city’s efforts to recruit two professional sports teams in 1998: the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and the NHL’s Nashville Predators.”

I haven’t seen many newspapers endorsements. THE TENNESSEAN is sitting out the election again in terms of endorsements while its fellow Gannett publication THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL is endorsing Bredesen. 

 Another Gannett owned paper the MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL is endorsing Bredesen. The paper says in supporting the former governor: “In these increasingly and distressingly divisive times, the U.S. Senate needs more pragmatic, civil and bipartisan voices of moderation who can work together to do the business of the American people.”

In the governor’s race THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL is endorsing Bill Lee.

The Lee campaign also released a new TV/ digital ad on Friday with a testimonial from a former inmate who has worked with the candidate in the Men of Valor non-profit group. That organization is involved in criminal justice reform efforts to help prisoners successfully return to society. The ad also seems to quietly underscore Lee’s community involvement, his religious faith and his preference to have non-profit and faith- based groups address issues rather than government.

Late Friday, here’s the latest in a continuing story that I am sure the Bill Lee campaign would prefer just go away.

All the on-line sites giving their predictions for the Tennessee Governor’s contest see the race as strong for the Republicans. Some even project greater than a 95% chance for Bill Lee to win by well into a double- digit margin.

These final weeks of the campaign are prime time for last minute attacks to show up in political races.
For example, the District 56 state House race in Nashville, where the banner below, attacking Democrat Bob Freeman, is showing up in digital on-line ads and in direct mail flyers. 

The attack effort is paid for by the Tennessee GOP House Caucus. It brought this response from Freeman in a fund- raising e-mail to supporters.

“Voters in the 56th district are seeing the depths that our opponent will go to every day at their mailboxes and on their computers. Our opponent and his supporters are doubling down on their attacks because they know that we are poised to win this race. They are scared and are willing to lie to defeat our campaign.
But we aren't going to let them do that.

We are fighting back, tooth and nail.”

All this is a pretty good sign this race is close even though the seat in this district has been held for several terms by outgoing House Speaker Beth Harwell. She played a major role in drawing these district lines. Harwell’s is the only seat held by the GOP in Nashville’s House delegation.

Governor Bill Haslam has also gotten involved in the 56th District race, issuing this digital ad endorsing Republican candidate Dr. Brent Moody a couple of week ago.

And you don’t even have to have an opponent to be attacked these days. Nashville Representative John Ray Clemmons is unopposed on the November ballot. Yet a robo-call attacking him has been making the rounds in his district.

Clemmons sent out this e-mail to respond.

“This week several of you across District 55 received a robocall that wholly misrepresented my record on important issues such as gun control, immigration, and women's reproductive health care rights. The caller identified herself as "social conservative activist Mary Ann Jackson" and the phone number from which the call originated was 615-942-0618, an often used robocall number for these types of stunts.  

It is truly unfortunate that cowardly, dishonest tactics like these are used in politics in an attempt to mislead voters and suppress your vote.  I am sorry that you have been victimized or inconvenienced by these political tactics.  Please help us end these types of activities by seeking to hold those responsible accountable. 

Because this misleading robocall did not include a disclaimer ("paid for by"), it is possibly in violation of election finance laws.  If you received the call, you may file a complaint with the Tennessee Attorney General by using this form. It is my hope that the Attorney General would investigate this matter, because it is important for such deceitful conduct to have consequences.

It’s just that time of year. 

Increasing each election cycle, there is a fight between both parties about the vote process itself: Voter fraud versus voter suppression.

Here’s what the Tennessee Democratic Party sent out in an e-mail about its preparations:
 “Our Voter Protection Team, composed of attorneys, experts, and 700+ dedicated poll watchers, is working day and night to ensure that all eligible voters are able to exercise their constitutional right to vote….
Here’s what we’re facing:

  • Registration issues: Applications being rejected because the Miss/Mrs./Mr. box wasn't checked
  • Poll closures: Technical difficulties -- with no backup plan -- causing locations to close and voters to be turned away for hours 
  • Understaffing: Not enough election workers promptly checking people in, resulting in lines 100 people deep or longer 
  • •    Misleading information: Reports of sample ballots being handed out with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee’s name circled”

Stay tuned. Part of election day coverage could be coming from court.

I frequently get asked questions about former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s future in politics. She resigned last March due to a scandal involving an extra-marital affair with her chief of security that led to her plead guilty to a felony theft charge.

The former Mayor has not gone into hiding. She is active on Facebook and still seems involved in community affairs and events. Most recently, in the area of what might be a political issue, according to a TENNESSEAN article, Barry “battled conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey over whether "white privilege" exists during an appearance on a television show that aired Thursday night.

Barry, a Democrat… said it "absolutely does." Stuckey, host of the Conservative Review TV podcast “Relatable” said, "There's no such thing as white privilege."

The exchange came on "White Women in Nashville," the second episode of a new television series on OZY called "Take On America." The show…aired Thursday night on Facebook, YouTube and PBS stations. Nashville Public Television broadcast the show at 11 p.m. CST. Here’s the video:

Following another school year that indicated the state’s student testing and teacher evaluation program TN Ready is not ready to live up to its name, Governor Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen this week again outlined proposals to “improve the delivery of TN Ready”…not “to start over.”
The program has become the source of concern and criticism from both major party gubernatorial candidates who will have to oversee at part of the implementation of this latest plan since Governor Haslam and his administration are due to leave office in January of next year.

There was trial run this week to see if the on-line technology to administer the TN Ready test now works statewide. It hasn’t worked in the past. So far, so good say state officials about the test run. It will be repeated one more time in the spring before tests are given. 

The other changes in the TN Ready program, resulting from a state-wide listening tour by the Governor, and a report compiled by educators who reviewed the listening tour results, include:

  1. Greater access to technology by pursuing implementation of the Tennessee Student Technology Enrichment Program (TNSTEP) to provide school districts with more affordable options for obtaining technology devices.
  2. Smarter delivery of the assessments based on grade levels. Grades 3-4 testing will remain paper only; grades 5-8 will continue testing science online and other subject areas will move online upon vendor demonstrating readiness; and high school end-of-course assessments will be administered online, but the state will explore offering reading passages in paper copy.
  3. Faster results will be delivered to teachers and families as priority will be given to an assessment vendor that can provide electronic delivery by creating an online login once scores are available. 
  4. Better preparation will be available by providing additional TN Ready practice test items to teachers and students and by pursuing an option that would allow districts to deliver optional benchmarks tests that mirror TN Ready.
  5. More Tennessee partnerships will be established by awarding additional credit during the procurement process to a vendor that plans to partner with Tennessee companies and universities as part of test development and administration.

But the real question remaining is: Will the new Governor (whoever that is) implement all these suggestions or go the down the path of a “start over” for TN Ready? Is there even time to change much before the 2019 TN Ready exams are administered?

A fascinating story from the NASHVILLE POST.
It appears in the period after he lost his primary race this summer to be the Republican nominee for governor, but before he became the interim president of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd contributed sizable sums to a political PAC which has been giving out money to Republican candidates across the country and here in Tennessee.

Interestingly, one of the GOP candidates who didn’t receive any funds is Franklin businessman Bill Lee who defeated Boyd in the August primary. The failure to support Lee also came after Boyd attended a party “unity rally” after the election.

Obviously, Boyd’s involvement with this PAC has raised both eyebrows and concerns now that he temporarily holds the top leadership post of the state’s flagship university system. Boyd has now issued this statement:

“As you may know, I have been an active donor and supporter of candidates and causes throughout the years - so after my gubernatorial campaign, but before I was selected as interim UT President, I set up the PAC as an easier way to continue my contributions to candidates who  are committed to the same things I care most about - education, job creation, and rural development. However, immediately upon my selection as interim president, and throughout my entire service at UT, this PAC will remain inactive and will not make any additional contributions to avoid any possible conflicts of interest."