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Capitol View Commentary: Thursday, October 11, 2018

Posted at 2:29 PM, Oct 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-11 15:56:38-04

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company
October 11, 2018



The last two public polls in the Tennessee U.S. Senate race (by FOX and CBS) show advantage Marsha Blackburn.

In fact, the leads she holds in both polls (5% in FOX, 8% in CBS) mark the first time in the race that a candidate has a lead outside the margin of error in two consecutive polls.

Why is that happening? Is it the significant advantage the Republican candidate has in outside Super PAC $$ support (and TV attack ads)? Is that why she may be slowly pulling her ahead of Democrat Phil Bredesen?

It is hard not to turn on a TV in Tennessee without seeing multiple ads attacking the former governor on a variety of topics There are often multiple spots with different attacks in the same commercial break. Phil Bredesen has only a couple of outside PAC groups in his corner. But Majority Forward’s ads and those of a labor group Super PAC are not on nearly as frequently as Blackburn’s supporting groups, which include pro-Trump groups, along with the Koch Brothers, the Republican Senate Committee and a Super PAC backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

What do these latest polls show in terms of the ongoing impact of the now successful Judge Brett Kavanaugh confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court?  Only a limited amount. Both surveys likely do show the increase in Republicans being energized to vote in the mid-term elections in response to the Democrat’s sharp opposition to the High Court appointment. However, the CBS poll still shows Blackburn’s overall support among Tennessee Republicans still in the 80%- plus range which would seem low.

I posted a link to the full FOX poll last week. Here’s a link to the complete CBS on-line poll which, for what it’s worth, gets just a B rating from the 538 website.

One more thing to watch for in the next few polls to be released. So far (at least as of this writing), there are no public polls available that measure the Democratic voter base reaction in Tennessee to Bredesen’s announcement last Friday (October 5) that he would have been a yes vote to confirm Kavanaugh. Will Bredesen’s numbers take another hit among his own base voters (especially among women) when polls, taken after Friday, October 5, are released.

That could be the case. Click on this link to see the ongoing results of a poll being conducted by THE NEW YORK TIMES and Siena College. While I can’t determine how long this poll has been in the field (or when it will be released), it does appear it’s been underway (as of Thursday AM) perhaps as long as a week since Bredesen’s Cavanaugh announcement. The results therefore should reflect the impact of Bredesen’s Kavanaugh announcement. It also should reflect to some degree the impact of Bredesen’s endorsement by pop icon Taylor Swift. SPOILER ALERT: The results so far of the NYT/Siena poll are not good for Bredesen.


While the Bredesen campaign is showing no public signs of concerns about the latest polls, it received one potential major ray of hope for their efforts with the endorsement their candidate from one of the top pop music superstars in the world.

Taylor Swift grew up in the Nashville area and maintains her voting residence here. Until last weekend she had resisted being involved in politics in any way. But then came a long posting on Instagram that changed all that. It read in part:

“Due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that (politics) now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love."

Swift then made it clear she is supporting Phil Bredesen as a way to oppose his opponent:

“Running for Senate in the state of Tennessee is a woman named Marsha Blackburn. As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values. I will be voting for Phil Bredesen for Senate.”

She then closed her social media post with a plea to her fans to take action:

“Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values. For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway.

So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do. October 9th is the LAST DAY to register to vote in the state of TN. Go to and you can find all the info. Happy Voting!”

Will it matter, especially with so many fans of Swift in the age groups that don’t vote, much less register. One news story from CNN says there has been some impact both in Tennessee and nationally. Similar stories have been written in USA Today and other news outlets.

The deadline to register to vote in Tennessee was Tuesday. So whatever impact there has been from Taylor Swift in terms of signing up new voters will be concentrated, but short. There’s also the question will these new voters show up at the polls during Early Voting (which starts next Wednesday, October 17) or on Election Day (November 6) itself?

The Blackburn campaign has so far declined any response concerning the Swift endorsement. But President Donald Trump now say he likes Taylor Swift’s music “25% less.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee sarcastically welcomed “Swift coming down from her ivory tower to tell Tennesseans how to vote.”

By the way, Taylor Swift also endorsed and said she plans to vote for Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper.


With Early Voting starting next Wednesday, Tennessee’s Senatorial candidates held their final debate this week.

For Marsha Blackburn and Phil Bredesen, Wednesday in Knoxville was a re-match of the two going head to head last month. Bredesen told me on INSIDE POLITICS last week that he thought he was a “little rusty” in their first meeting. But he declined to say how or if he would change his tactics in the second debate. Given the success she had in the first debate, Blackburn seemed sure to stay on the offensive, especially labeling her opponent, as she did multiple times in the first debate, as “bought and paid for by (Democratic Senate leader) Chuck Schumer.” This time would she add former New York City mayor and ardent gun control activist, billionaire Michael Bloomberg?

The answer is yes. But she substituted Hillary Clinton for Chuck Schumer in her continuing effort to nationalize the race by tying Bredesen to the national leadership of the Democratic Party. In fact, she brought up Bredesen’s support of Clinton for President so often (along with exactly how much money he contributed to her), some might have found it a bit much, especially when she included that information it seems in a large majority of her comments during the debate.

I thought Phil Bredesen was more active and energized in this second debate. Even though, especially early in the debate, the question topics (gun control, Kavanaugh) were harder for a Democrat to handle, he pushed back hard on attacks against him and continued to try and link Blackburn to being part of the on-going problem of hyper-partisanship and gridlock in Washington.

One thing that seemed to bother both candidates, especially early on, was dealing with the short time frames they were given to make their responses. They often got stopped in mid-sentence and before they could complete their thoughts. Both candidates got better in being concise. But it’s strange this was that big a problem since (I think) both sides knew and agreed to the format. Therefore, they should have practiced short answers beforehand in their mock debates with stand-in surrogates.

Here’s how the local, state and national media reported and analyzed this second and final Senate debate. Click these links to read stories from the Associated Press, Knox News, the Tennessean, and the Nashville Post.

The Bredesen camp had to be particularly disappointed that the opioid issue did not merit a question. Both Team Bredesen and their outside Super PAC supporters have allocated an increasing amount of their TV and digital ad campaign to criticizing Blackburn on the issue. That includes a new ad released right before the debate.

Unless a candidate makes a major mistake, debates rarely make a much of a difference in the outcome of a race. These two debates did not see such a gaffe, so don’t expect these one-on-one events to have any long- term impact on the November 6th vote.

Late in the week came the disclosure of a video produced by an outside group. Some might term it campaign espionage or opposition research. In a former time in politics it would have been called campaign “dirty tricks,” now aided by today’s digital technology.

Follow this link to a TENNESSEE STAR story and the video.

Digital technology is even subject to use, some would say manipulation, of TV political talk shows.

Here is how the Tennessee Republican Party used an excerpt of my interview with Phil Bredesen on INSIDE POLITICS last week to produce an on-line digital ad.

The Party has produced a similar ad out of the second Senate debate.

As of Thursday afternoon, the 538 web site has the Tennessee Senate race as likely Republican with Marsha Blackburn having 4 chances out of 5 (80%) to win with a projected margin of 51.3% to 45.3%. CNN Politics still lists the race as a “toss up.”


For Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean, he had two shots this week to narrow his race against Republican Bill Lee. Dean didn’t seem to score any major points in the duo’s first debate last week.  The need to create momentum was therefore even greater for Dean when the two met for the final times, first in Kingsport (Tuesday) and Nashville (Friday).

As expected on Tuesday, Dean focused his points of difference from Lee on health care (Medicaid expansion) and education (opposition to school vouchers). But will the second time around to appear together on statewide public TV make any difference for Dean? Here is a roundup of how the state and national media analyzed and reported the debate. Click these following links to read stories from the Associated Press, the Tennessean, and WCYB.

Even before the debates, Dean put up his latest TV ad. This time the spot focuses on public education criticizing Lee for his support for vouchers.

Lee posted up his latest TV ad before the debates as well. The new commercial includes a rebuttal to Dean’s other major difference-making issue, expanding Medicaid in Tennessee. Lee again stakes out his position on better education for Tennessee students. He says the state must seek long term, 20-year solutions but with “less government interference” and funding.

Meanwhile, there is a controversy brewing over a trooper in the Tennessee Highway Patrol using his inside security information to try and help the Lee campaign. It revolves around an event Dean attended with members of the “Muslim” community. Muslim groups are expressing their disappointment with the Lee campaign over the matter. 

There are also questions being raised about the accuracy of a Dean TV and digital ad regarding health care and hospital closures.

I will analyze the final gubernatorial debate in next week’s Capitol View.

One last note this week, the Lee campaign announced Thursday it raised $4.5 million in the period between the last week of July through September 30. Since Lee’s campaign began in 2017, it reportedly has received funding from 6,100 donors.


With Early Voting beginning next Wednesday, October 17, all eyes on the mid -term elections, both here in Tennessee and across the nation. Of course, foreign affairs don’t take a holiday because we are voting to select our leaders. Our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week is Dr. Thomas Schwartz. As a history and political science professor at Vanderbilt University, he can provide insights in both electoral politics and overseas developments.

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NOTE: We have extended multiple invitations to Congressman Blackburn to appear on Inside Politics to complete the field of candidates for the US Senate seat in Tennessee. To date, they have gone unanswered. We make every attempt to include all major candidates in the races we focus on, the invitation remains open to the Blackburn campaign.


As the week approaches its end, it is unclear if, for the second time in recent weeks, a Tennessee inmate in recent weeks will be put to death by the state.

An execution had been set for Thursday night for inmate Edmund Zagorski. But that was stayed on Wednesday by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

At the beginning of the week the Tennessee Supreme Court had declined to declare unconstitutional the state’s use of the lethal injection method for capital punishment. In response, lawyers for Zagorski, invoked his right to be executed in Tennessee’s electric chair. But Tennessee Corrections officials refused that request, saying it came too late.

The disagreement provided further grounds for a legal appeal to stop the execution. And indeed the 6th Circuit cited the electric chair request along with questions about Zagorski’s legal representation when he was convicted as reasons to delay the Thursday execution for further review.

An appeal of the stay by the state to the U.S. Supreme Court seemed possible, and preparations had continued to hold the execution. Now a local federal judge has issued an injunction to stop any execution for now, at least by lethal injection.

With all the various legal appeals and maneuvers still underway, the situation remains potentially in flux. Stay tuned.

There are several other inmates awaiting execution in the months to come.