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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 31, 2018

Posted at 3:26 PM, Aug 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-31 16:26:18-04


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

August 31, 2018



It’s not even Labor Day.

But, as expected (if a bit early), attack ads are under way in the Tennessee U.S. Senate race.

Also, as expected, the attacks are TV and digital on-line ads being paid for by outside groups.

That means they aren’t being paid for, or coordinated with, the campaigns. But it is clear who the two groups involved oppose, Phil Bredesen.

Here’s the attack ad from Americans for Prosperity, a group affiliated with the Koch Brothers Network. You will probably see it a lot with a reported $2 million ad budget for this campaign.

The Americans for Prosperity attack ad is scheduled to start running today (Friday). The POLITICFACT group has already analyzed its content on its Truth-0-Meter. It has found the claims in the TV spot are false. You can read what the group says here.

The other attack ad against Bredesen is from PAC known as Tennessee Strong. It claims a vote for Bredesen is a vote for Hillary Clinton.

The Blackburn campaign is backing up the ‘He’s for Hillary” outside ad with one that features President Trump.

The Hillary Clinton ad has not brought a direct response from Team Bredesen, but a group supporting him, Tennessee Victory 2018, did issue a news release about some past contributions to Democrats made by President Donald Trump.

“Over the years, Trump has contributed at least $324,600 to Democratic political candidates and committees, including:

  • $10,900 to Hillary Clinton
  • $9,900 to Chuck Schumer
  • $118,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
  • $51,050 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

“Donald Trump clearly has had a long-term love affair with Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats,” Mark Brown, Tennessee Victory 2018 spokesman, said. “If Marsha Blackburn and the Tennessee Republican Party want to make hay over someone’s contributions to Democrats, they might want to start by looking in their own house.”

None of the lines of attacks in these new outside TV ads are completely new or different. They didn’t inflict damage on Bredesen back in the day when he was governor. But with large dollars being spent to repeat and reinforce these messages, the Bredesen campaign knows it must respond. 

It is responding, but the first strategy the campaign used on Wednesday seems to be take the high road, not attacking in kind.

The news release announcing the Bredesen response ad did offer some more direct response to the Americans for Prosperity ad. “During his time in office, Governor Bredesen balanced eight budgets without imposing an income tax or increasing the sales tax on Tennessee families. He also worked diligently with the legislature to raise the tobacco tax to fund education and to close corporate tax loopholes that were siphoning resources away from public safety, health care, education, and other priorities. 

The Bredesen campaign also provided links to recent newspaper articles in an effort to prove “Congressman Blackburn's campaign promised that they would closely coordinate with dark money groups and it's clear they are making good on their promise of negative campaigning, following the losing D.C. Diane playbook.”

You can read those newspaper stories by clicking here and here.

Perhaps bolstered by the false rating given the Americans for Prosperity ad, the Bredesen campaign on Thursday added a second TV and digital response commercial, calling the Koch Brothers-funded TV spot “full of flat out lies” and calling out Marsha Blackburn directly.

Get ready.

If the strategy of those opposing Phil Bredesen is to defeat him by administering “10,000 cuts,” as a top Blackburn aide recently told a Republican civic group (according to a leaked recording of his remarks), this is likely just the beginning.

Here is one other very interesting thing to contemplate about the Koch Brothers ad.  While the Americans for Prosperity commercial is not a direct endorsement of Marsha Blackburn, spending $2 million to attack her opponent, speaks loudly of Koch support for her.

Marsha Blackburn has also been endorsed by President Trump who has already come to Tennessee to campaign for the Congressman, and he is likely to be back again at least one more time this fall. Mr. Trump and the Koch Brothers are hardly friends. The President recently said the Koch Brothers are “total jokes in real Republican circles.” Therefore, Trump and the Koch Brothers together sure make for some very interesting political bedfellows, backing Blackburn in their own ways, as the Republican U.S. Senate nominee from Tennessee.


I asked in this column last week if there is going to be fight between the two Senate candidates over when and where they would appear together on the same stage to debate on statewide live TV?
It looks like that fight is underway.

After the two gubernatorial candidates agreed to debate three times over the next several weeks, Republican Marsha Blackburn agreed to participate in only one of four debates accepted by Democrat Phil Bredesen. Blackburn says she is still studying other debate opportunities, but apparently not the one set for Memphis on September 13. She has declined that appearance.

In a statement early in the week, Bredesen struck back.

“I know it is the Washington playbook to avoid talking about the issues, but we deserve better here in Tennessee,” Governor Phil Bredesen said. “The closest debate to Memphis shouldn’t be more than 200 miles away and I hope Congressman Blackburn reconsiders. Memphians and West Tennesseans deserve attention to their issues just as much as the rest of the state and that is why I intend to be at Rhodes on September 13 and host a forum to share my ideas.”   

The Bredesen news release continued: 

“Tennessee has a long tradition of Senate candidates debating in multiple cities to bring attention to the various issues that face the distinct regions in the state. In 2006, the Senate candidates debated three times in Memphis, Chattanooga and Nashville."

The potential debates that were left in limbo are October 1 in Chattanooga and October 10 in Knoxville.

The one debate both candidates have agreed to appear together is in Lebanon on September 25. 

On Wednesday afternoon (August 29), the Blackburn campaign ended at least some of its ongoing study of other debates, accepting the October 10 session in Knoxville. Still not good enough said the Bredesen campaign, criticizing the Congressman again for not agreeing to debate in Memphis, or in any part of a Grand Division of the state, West Tennessee:

"Memphis and West Tennessee have specific issues that are important to them. We hope that Congressman Blackburn feels the same way and reconsiders.”--Alyssa Hansen, Bredesen for Senate Press Secretary.

I have seen no response from Blackburn, but in accepting the Knoxville debate she said: “ From immigration to taxes, Phil Bredesen and I have serious policy differences that will drastically affect how Tennesseans are represented in the United States Senate," Blackburn, R-Brentwood, said in a statement, adding that she looks forward to "highlighting our significant policy differences."

And so, the debate over the debates continues.


As of yesterday, the Bill Lee campaign would have been dark (without a TV ad on the air) for 4 weeks. An ad voiced by Governor Bill Haslam and paid for by an outside group (The Republican Governors Association) did keep a positive Lee message on the air.

Now the Lee campaign has sent out a news release unveiling the candidate’s first ad of the general election campaign entitled “People.”

The new ad’s messages sound the same as several themes Lee used during the primary: “businessman,” “conservative outsider,” “man of faith.” Trying to link his “people are the answer” (not politics) message is interesting, especially as is his tag line in the ad which proclaims, “Bill Lee is Tennessee.”  Also intriguing: Lee seems to be appealing to voters who are turned off to government or politics (or maybe by the recent GOP gubernatorial primary race if their candidate lost?).

Missing as well in the Lee ad is any mention of or comparisons to President Trump and support for his positions on a Mexican border wall and banning sanctuary cities. That was a given to be stated in almost every GOP primary ad from all four Republican gubernatorial candidates. I think the lack of mention of those issues is called “moving to the center” for the fall campaign.

On the other side, Democrat Karl Dean issued a news release proposing a local option gas tax increase for Tennessee. That means county and city officials can vote on their own to increase the gas tax to help with road and other infrastructure improvements or repairs.

Even just mentioning an increase of a tax is a dangerous political move (even if it is allowing local governments to do so, not the state).  In his campaign news release, Dean says much of those extra taxes would paid for by visitors, and that the revenues would allow counties to fund specific infrastructure and transportation programs.

“Unlike my opponent, I believe passing the IMPROVE Act (in 2016) was the right move for Tennessee. But we can’t rest; we can’t sit still. As governor, I’ll work with legislators to make transportation infrastructure an even better tool to add jobs and increase access to high-quality education and health care.”

I think this is effort by Dean is a way to position himself as a candidate who (as his news release claims) has a “record of finding solutions to tough problems.” That is, he knows how to make government work effectively, while his opponent is completely inexperienced. 

But doing that, while using the “t word” (even as a local option), could be tricky for sure.

Looking back on the August primary, in a “rest of the story mode,” THE NEW YORK TIMES ran an article this week that may have shed some light on why third-place GOP gubernatorial primary finisher, Congressman Diane Black couldn’t get President Trump to endorse her.  This week’s primaries continue to show Mr. Trump can make the big difference in a primary contest as the winner in the Florida Republican gubernatorial primary proved Tuesday night.

So what did Diane Black do to get the President’s support and why did she ultimately fail?

Reports the NYT via the TENNESSEE JOURNAL ON THE HILL blog:

“She (Black) approached the president at a White House event, had some of his most high-profile congressional allies weigh in on her behalf, and even deployed some West Wing officials who are friendly to her.

But most of Mr. Trump’s aides wanted him to stay out of the race, and they were able to keep him sidelined in part by reminding him of what Ms. Black said after the video of Mr. Trump boasting about groping women was released in 2016 (“I would’ve yanked my son by the ear if he had talked that way when he was a teenager much less an adult,” she said at the time).”



A major league soccer team for Nashville (and a new stadium at the Fairgrounds for the team to play) are now just one set of votes away from final approval.

The plan has faced a number of do- or- die votes this past month. The project has survived, and if the package of legislation before the Metro Council gets at least 21 votes next Tuesday night (27 votes to demolish some old buildings on the property), the quest for major league soccer in Nashville will be complete. Prospects for success looked good for most of this part. But as you read on there are some late developments that are casting new clouds of doubt about the final Council votes next week. Read on.

A re-zoning bill to allow a controversial 10-acre mixed use development around the new stadium received just 20 votes on second reading Monday night. Could that be a problem next week when 21 votes are needed? Maybe. But the second reading vote came after a four hour long public hearing where over one hundred persons spoke and hundreds more filled the Council chambers and the surrounding hallways of the Metro Courthouse. 

It could be some of the yes votes on rezoning left early since the bill passed easily with only nine nos. This TENNESSEAN story by Joey Garrison gives an excellent summary of the debate the Council heard. It’s a controversy that is really over the future of the Fairgrounds and it dates several years, well before this MLS soccer plan was ever even thought of as a possibility.

Receiving 27 or a two-thirds majority to approve the demolition of the older building at the Fairgrounds is likely the biggest hurdle left to be surmounted. In that regard the MLS plan, got a major boost when a Community Benefits Agreement between the project’s developers, community organizations and neighbors seemed close to final agreement. Several Council members have made it clear they will not vote yes on the MLS project unless this agreement gets done. If it does get done, the accord should produce the votes needed to approve all the pending soccer legislation. 

However, until you see the green lights on the board next Tuesday, who knows?

Courtesy of NASHVILLE POST here is a summary of what the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) includes:

“NSH will set aside 12 percent of residential units as affordable housing, in addition to 8 percent of units for workforce housing;

NSH will reserve 4,000 square feet for a childcare facility near the project’s mixed-use development;

NSH will reserve 4,000 square feet of retail space in the mixed-use development for a micro-unit incubator for artisans and small businesses;

NSH will donate new and used soccer equipment to Metro schools and host an annual coaching clinic for Metro coaches;

NSH stadium employees will be paid at least $15.50 per hour;

Stand Up Nashville and NSH will establish a community advisory committee to monitor continued compliance with the CBA.

In the joint letter, the two parties to the CBA urge Metro Council to approve the bills related to the MLS stadium.

'Nashville’s soccer fans are not just supporting the team, without CBA, we are also supporting their neighbors,' they wrote.”

But even as this critical CBA agreement seems to be in hand, a new development that just came to life, might make it easier to resolve the MLS controversy, or rekindle the issue of the Fairgrounds’ future all over again.

The idea is to bring NASCAR races back to Nashville (after being gone for many years). It is being promoted by the owner of the prestigious Bristol Motor Speedway located in upper East Tennessee.

While it remains unclear what the “bring NASCAR back to Nashville” push might mean, to keep the heat on to build support to approve the MLS plan next week, Mayor David Briley issued an open letter to the City of Nashville. It said in part: “Make no mistake about it: Nashville is a soccer city... Now we just have to close the deal. And that deal has only gotten better and better since the day last December when the MLS came to town and made the announcement before a big, diverse and fired-up crowd.”

But late Thursday afternoon the NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL had a developing story that could add yet another last- minute wrinkle to MLS approval. A new property appraisal study shows the Fairgrounds land (including the 10-acre mixed use development that would adjoin the stadium) has almost doubled in value compared to the numbers city officials have been using.

Will this delay the final votes while some Councilmembers seek more lease payments from the MLS owners and developers? We will find out what happens next week.


Statewide and legislative candidates in Tennessee still run under party labels.

But what does that mean these days as the role of political parties continues to evolve and change?

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we have invited the two major party chairs in Tennessee, Scott Golden of the Tennessee Republican Party and Mary Mancini of the Tennessee Democratic Party to discuss that issue and share their thoughts on the upcoming November election.

Join us. It is a very interesting discussion. I also want to thank both party chairs for appearing together on the show. Some of their predecessors declined to do that.

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 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.


Metro voters go to the polls next Thursday to select a vice mayor to serve out the remaining time left before the city’s next regularly scheduled elections next August.

Two very qualified candidates, Acting Vice Mayor and Bellevue district councilmember Sheri Weiner and At-Large Council member Jim Schulman are on the ballot.

But not many voters seem to care.

After 12 days of early voting (only Friday and Saturday still to go) an underwhelming 10,665 voters have cast ballots. That’s 2.88% of active registered voters in Davidson County.

Special elections are rare and almost never attract many folks to polls.  There has only been one other runoff special election for vice mayor. It was in September 2002 when Howard Gentry defeated Chris Ferrell. That contest attracted just under 40,000 voters, maybe the lowest countywide vote total in Metro (post 1963) ever. 

Will we see more or less voters than that when the ballots are counted on September 6?


There will be no column next week.

Look for the next Capitol View on Friday, September 14.

Happy Labor Day weekend!