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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 17, 2018

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Posted at 2:03 PM, Aug 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-17 15:03:48-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company

August 16, 2018

THE FIRST POLLS TAKEN SINCE THE AUGUST PRIMARY ARE OUT; IN COME THE OUTSIDERS AND GUILT BY ASSOCIATION; A SENATORIAL DEBATE CONTROVERSY?' ON THE GOVERNOR’S CAMPAIGN TRAIL; A REDO OF THE TENNESSEE WAR OF THE ROSES?; CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS; MLS SOCCER MONTH COULD GO ALL THE WAY TO NOVEMBER; 

THE FIRST POLLS TAKEN SINCE THE AUGUST PRIMARY ARE OUT

The first statewide polls conducted since the August 2nd primary (8/9-8/11) have been released. The surveys were taken by the Gravis Marketing group which bills itself as a non-partisan research firm. Some 620 likely Tennessee voters were surveyed with a margin for error of 3.9%. The poll was done on line with cell phone users and with interactive voice responses. 

The results are heartening for Republicans:

U.S. Senate

Marsha Blackburn (R) 48%
Phil Bredesen (D) 44%

GOVERNOR

Bill Lee 51%
Karl Dean 40%

Here’s a link to the poll data including several questions asked about hot-button issues and other elected officials.

A quick look at the Gravis poll demographics show Bredesen has somewhat stronger support numbers from his Democratic base (89.4%) compared to Blackburn’s GOP supporters (85.6%).  Interestingly, almost 12% of Republican voters say they are for Bredesen compared to the 6.5% of Democrats surveyed who say they support Blackburn.

Independents are ever-so leaning slightly to Bredesen 40.6% to 40.1% for Blackburn.

It’s 46.7% for Bredesen among women surveyed, 40.8% for Blackburn.

Among males it’s 55.6% Blackburn 41.5% Bredesen.

This is also a poll that finds President Donald Trump’s approval rating at 54% (strongly or somewhat approving), versus 41% (strongly or somewhat disapproving) of his job performance. 51.7% of men strongly approve of the President in the poll. The President’s overall approval number is below Governor Haslam (60%) but ahead of Senators Corker and Alexander who are both below 50%.

Demographics for Lee and Dean in the Gravis poll find party base support numbers to be 87.7% for Lee among Republicans compared to only 79% for Dean among his fellow Democrats. Only 7% of Republicans say they support Dean. Among Democrats, 15.9% say they would vote for Lee. Independents surveyed are 42.2% for Dean, 39.1% for Lee.

Women are 48.7% to 38.8% for Lee over Dean while among men it is 54.2% for Lee compared to 40.5% for Dean.

Those are obviously not good numbers for Dean, but it’s just one poll, one snap shot of the race, not the gospel written in stone. It’s still August and there will be more polls to come.

The Real Clear Politics web site still ranks both Tennessee statewide races as toss-ups. That makes sense given past polls in the Senate race, although this survey marks the first time in a while that Blackburn has been ahead.

The Lee-Dean matchup is the first head to head matchup I have seen of them, so perhaps Real Clear is waiting for more polls before leaning the race one way or other.

As for the Gravis Marketing firm, a story on NASHVILLE POST gives them mixed reviews.

“According to FiveThirtyEight data, Gravis has correctly predicted two-thirds of surveyed races. Political writer David Weigel called Gravis “The Worst Poll in America” following two missed calls in 2014 Senate races.”

Regardless, it’s great fodder for political junkies to pour over, analyze and speculate about what it means.

IN COME THE OUTSIDERS AND GUILT BY ASSOCIATION

Last week I told you that lots of outside groups are coming into both the Tennessee U.S. Senate and Governor’s races. Indeed, the Republican Governor’s Association’s TV ad for Bill Lee has been on the airwaves for over a week (voiced by Governor Bill Haslam himself).

Last Friday, a group supporting Phil Bredesen (Majority Forward Super PAC) went up with an ad endorsing him.  We showed you that spot, via a link, in last week’s column. Now a group (The Senate Leadership Fund) backing Marsha Blackburn, has created a spot singing her praises, both biographically and because of her endorsement by President Trump.

For the most part, the Senate campaigns are both falling into a pattern of seeking advantage through guilt by association concerning their opponent. Last week the Blackburn campaign made a fuss about comments made by Congressman Steve Cohen. He told a Memphis prayer breakfast that he wished President Donald Trump would tell Blackburn to jump off a bridge (because she is so loyal to him, she would do so). Cohen responded to the criticism by saying he was just joking. Blackburn supporters called his remarks “violent” and said Cohen hadn’t offered a sufficient-enough apology. They want Bredesen to make Cohen apologize. 

Now Democrats supporting Bredesen are getting into it. Mark Brown of Tennessee Victory 2018, a group that supports the former governor but not part of his campaign, has issued a press release going after someone Brown claims is a major Blackburn supporter. Here is a portion of the release:

“Tennessee Victory 2018 today called on Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn to disavow and reject the endorsement of disgraced attorney Judson Phillips, founder of the radical hate group Tea Party Nation.

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility on Aug. 8 ruled that Phillips — who endorsed Blackburn’s Senate candidacy in February — “poses a threat of substantial harm to the public” following investigations of misconduct against at least 18 clients.

Phillips is a longtime Blackburn confidante and supporter who penned a 2014 op-ed in the Washington Times promoting Blackburn as a candidate for U.S. House speaker. He founded Tea Party Nation, an extremist splinter wing designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

This isn’t the first time Phillips publicly embarrassed Blackburn. In 2010, she enthusiastically agreed to speak at a political convention that Phillips was organizing. But intra-party backlash over Phillips’ attempts to make money off the event forced her to back out. In 2012, a Las Vegas judge ordered Phillips to pay $748,000 in restitution after backing out of a political convention deal with the Venetian Casino Resort.

Phillips is a regular columnist for the right-wing web site Tennessee Star. In April, he endorsed losing gubernatorial candidate Diane Black while disparaging businessman Bill Lee, the eventual winner. “

In turn, Mark Brown himself has been the target of attacks from the Blackburn campaign based on some past explicit on-line comments and tweets he made about President Trump and his supporters.

Brown responded in one of his latest news releases by calling the matter “harping over old tweets.”

So far we are just now beginning to see some debate on the big issues facing the country today. It is good to see both candidates participating in forums across the state, appearing on the same platform, if not so far, at the same time.

Back in surrogate land, there is this TENNESSEEAN op-ed by Nashville lawyer Bob Tuke. He is criticizing Congressman Blackburn on her voting record (or lack thereof) on defense funding. Sure, he gets in his digs (even some shots on Congressman Diane Black) but it’s better than the op-ed being all about what surrogates are saying and doing and how the candidates ought to apologize about it.

Here’s another development late in the week regarding campaign finance. Based on earlier such efforts in other races, not much may come of it. But it is more fodder for the political grist mill.

On the TV trail this week, the Bredesen campaign posted up a new TV and on-line digital ad. Entitled “What We Want”, it shows again a persistent campaign theme.  Phil Bredesen isn’t running against Donald Trump. He isn’t running against Marsha Blackburn. He is running against Washington. And he is going home to New York State to talk about it.

When Phil Bredesen first began his political career (unsuccessful races to be Mayor of Nashville and Congressman in the late 1980s), being from out of town, especially from up north, hurt him. But over the years, after saying he got here to Tennessee “as soon as I could,” attitudes have changed as voters got to know him. In the weeks ahead, I wonder if we will see more of Bredesen sitting on his grandmother’s porch in front of that working class/middle class home in up-state New York?

To further bolster her conservative business base, Marsha Blackburn has picked up the endorsement this week of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Blackburn has released another TV spot. This one focuses on her work in Congress to stop on-line, international sex trafficking and prostitution.

The Tennessee Journal On The Hill blog site gave this further explanation what the issue is about and Blackburn’s involvement.

“Backpage.com’s website was seized by the FBI in April and its CEO pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against other website officials charged with facilitating prostitution and money laundering. a 93-count indictment alleges that teenage girls were sold for sex on the site. President Donald Trump in this year signed a bill dubbed “FOTSA,” or the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. The bill passed the House 388-25 (Blackburn was one of 174 co-sponsors).”

A SENATORIAL DEBATE CONTROVERSY?

Is there going to be a debate controversy in the Senate race?

This week Democrat Phil Bredesen announced he would participate in four televised debates in September and October. Reports THE NASHVILLE POST:

“These debates will give me the opportunity to show how we can take on the tough problems in Washington and work together to get things done,” Bredesen said in the release.

The debates, hosted by media organizations around the state, would be Sept. 13 in Memphis, Sept. 25 in Lebanon (airing on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK), Oct. 1 in Chattanooga and Oct. 10 in Knoxville.”

Will Congressman Blackburn be there too? That seems unsure right now.  Again, from THE NASHVILLE POST: “Blackburn, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Brentwood, did not immediately agree to participate in the four events.

“We’re still finalizing our debate schedule, but we look forward to debating Phil Bredesen,” Abbi Sigler, a campaign spokesperson, said. “We’re pleased to see he is willing to participate in debates.” 

But will they be debating at the same events? Stay tuned.

ON THE GOVERNOR’S CAMPAIGN TRAIL

We are two weeks past the August 2nd primary. Neither of the major party gubernatorial candidates has a new TV spot on the air. Dean is beginning to re-use one of his “Forgotten Tennessee/ It’s All Connected” ads from the primary. The Bill Lee campaign does not have any spots on the air.  He is getting support and cover from the ad paid for by the National Republican Governor’s Association. It features Governor Bill Haslam endorsing Bill Lee to succeed him.

So (as of Friday afternoon) why aren’t the two main campaigns on the air with new spots? Is it because nobody pays much attention to politics until after Labor Day? The two Senatorial candidates have stayed on TV and have started new spots, so they must think its important. Were the competing gubernatorial teams not ready to go with a general election ad to start running after the primary vote? Every Republican candidate knew they’d be facing Dean in the fall. And while the size of the Lee victory was a surprise, surely the Dean Team knew in the final weeks of the primary there was an increasing chance Lee would be their fall opponent.

Now I am sure both campaigns will get revved up soon, so maybe this is no big deal. Just maybe something worth noting.

A REDO OF THE TENNESSEE WAR OF THE ROSES?

At the beginning of the week, Karl Dean continued to bring up the idea of some joint campaign appearances with Bill Lee. That included an op-ed piece that appeared in the most recent SUNDAY TENNESSEAN and perhaps elsewhere in the USA TODAY TENNESSEE—NETWORK.

Will the Lee campaign accept? I’ve had my doubts, but a few days, I had not heard a definite no (or any response) from the candidate or his campaign.

Late Wednesday, in a fund- raising e-mail to supporters, the Dean campaign announced: “We learned today (Wednesday) that Karl's opponent, Bill Lee, graciously declined to join him in a series of town square conversations about the issues that impact Tennessee families like public education, access to affordable health care, and job creation. But, that is ok because we are going to push forward and the bring the conversation to town squares across Tennessee ourselves.”

Would such joint campaigning  be unprecedented? Not in Tennessee politics.

Let’s go back to 1886.

Two brothers from upper East Tennessee, Alf and Bob Taylor are the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor. Let’s pick up the story from there, courtesy of author Phillip Langsdon in his marvelous book, TENNESSEE A POLITICAL HISTORY.

“During the campaign, the brothers stumped the state together and spoke from the same platform forty-one times. They both told entertaining stories, joked and played the fiddle. One story goes that they stayed overnight at the boarding house of a Tennessee woman. The next morning, she cut two roses and gave Bob a white rose and Alf a red one. The rose wearing caught on at their next appearance, and their supporters started sporting red or white roses, when they could get them, depending on which candidate they supported.

Another story was told that on one stop Bob stole Alf’s written speech from his bag and used it himself. Alf went right along and spoke on Bob’s positions on the issues. The campaign was jokingly linked to (in English history) the war between the Yorks and Lancasters (for the British throne). Thus, the campaign was called “The War of the Roses.”

By the way, Bob Taylor, the Democrat was elected in 1886.

Some years later in 1920, Alf was elected Governor too. He was the last Republican to serve in that position until Winfield Dunn won the office in 1970.

CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS

Nashville’s 5th District Democratic U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

There are so many topics to discuss. That includes the continued gridlock in Washington that seems to be getting worse rather than better. There are also the mid-term elections, both here in Tennessee and nationally. What about the creation of a national Space Corps as well as “instant run-off” voting in both congressional and Metro elections? There’s also the ongoing Mueller/ Trump Russian investigation and how to proceed with that with the elections approaching.

Tune us in.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend 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 NEWSCHANNEL5.com. 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.

MLS SOCCER MONTH COULD GO ALL THE WAY TO NOVEMBER

A couple of columns ago I named the month of August to be MLS Soccer Month in Nashville. Will city boards and agencies, along with the Metro Council, approve the final legislation and agreements needed to build a soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds for a Major League Soccer expansion team to play?

Early this month, things looked promising to get everything done no later than the first week of September. But now there are efforts underway, to extend the growing debate and controversy about the MLS stadium proposal and the accompanying mixed-use redevelopment of an additional 10 acres, all the way to the November 6th election.

Two Council leaders, At-Large member John Cooper and Budget & Finance Committee Tanaka Vercher are offering resolutions at next Tuesday night’s meeting (August 21) that would place some or all of the city bond funding and lease agreements on the fall ballot for voter approval.

There is some precedent for this. There was a vote back in the 1990s to approve the deal to bring the then NFL Tennessee Oilers (now Titans) to town. There were also efforts to allow voters to approve the financing for both downtown convention centers, but they failed.

There is also still a community investment plan involved with the stadium and the surrounding 10-acre mixed use development. MLS developers and team owners are still negotiating the plan with neighbors and others. Several councilmembers vow they want all that decided before any final votes are taken on the MLS project. Then late in the week, with prodding from some Metro agencies, the MLS owners suddenly agreed to put millions more dollars on the table.

Late in the week, the MLS controversy facing the Council next Tuesday night got even more complicated. Mike Jamison, the Council’s attorney and staff director is raising questions about the two resolutions to put the matter on the ballot.

By the way, in speaking with the Metro Council Staff Office, it will not take a 21-vote or 27-vote majority to pass these resolutions and put them on the ballot. It will take just a simple majority of those voting. Think about the political implications of that. It could pass 1-0 or 20-19. Watch as well for some parliamentary maneuvers to be invoked next Tuesday night at the Council meeting to stop the resolutions from ever coming to a final vote.

While all this is going on in the Council, it appears the city’s Sports Authority had started to move ahead in selecting a project manager for construction of the MLS stadium. But now maybe not, as there is a protest about how the winning bidder was selected.

Even if the MLS resolutions are approved or rejected, the November ballot is already growing in size. An amendment to the Metro Charter to create a Police Oversight Board has been certified to be placed before the voters. The Metro Election Commission found there are enough signatures of voters gathered by community and social justice advocates to trigger the vote. The effort to create a Police Oversight Board dates back over four decades in Nashville. There has been and will likely continue to be opposition to it from the local Fraternal Order of Police and others.

The Metro Election Commission’s vote to place the matter on the ballot was unanimous. The FOP’s attorney David Raybin has told THE TENNESSEAN he will now take the matter to court. He says the petition to put the Oversight Board on the ballot is not correct. The Metro Charter says it takes the signatures of 10% of the voters who voted in the last general election to allow a charter change referendum. The FOP attorney maintains the last general election in Davidson County was not held in May, 2016 as election officials insist. Instead, the FOP says it was the mayor’s election in May, 2018. If that is correct, then well over 8,000 signatures are needed not the 4,000 plus certified by the Election Commission.

The FOP argument is interesting one. If you remember the late May mayoral vote this spring was held after a weeks long court fight. It ended when the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the vote had to be conducted a “special election” not during a regularly scheduled general election.

I guess this is just another potentially bizarre development in the most bizarre election year I can ever remember in Nashville history.