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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 19, 2018

Posted at 1:46 PM, Oct 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-19 14:50:11-04

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company 
October 19, 2018



The first votes of Tennessee’s 2018 general election were cast beginning Wednesday.

Early voting has often become convenience voting, although there are indications that voter turnout in this state (ranked close to 50th or dead last in recent elections), might be up significantly in this cycle.

But then voter interest is up all over the country, so Tennessee may still be bringing up the rear nationally for voter turnout come November 6.

Candidates held Early Voting Kickoff events both Tuesday and Wednesday. Phil Bredesen’s campaign had one in Knoxville and two in Nashville, including a rally targeting the Hispanic vote.

Early in the week, Marsha Blackburn campaigned with the National Rifle Association in parts of the state.

Here’s how THE TIMES FREE PRESS reported both stories (the NRA in Tennessee and the Early Voting Run-up). 

As voters began to go to the polls, Marsha Blackburn also got a late endorsement this week from former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Based on the first two days of Early Voting (Wednesday & Thursday), voter turnout seems to be at the higher levels seen only in presidential elections (at least in Nashville, with over 10,000 voting the first day and over 13,000 on Thursday). That will surely please Democrats. Although both parties will be excited if more voters turn out across Tennessee. Statewide, for both absentee and early voting, just over120,000 people voted early the first day. On Thursday, statewide it was 97,960. That’s a two-day total of almost a quarter of a million folks (although some counties such as Shelby County/ Memphis are lagging behind in reporting their numbers). So statewide voting so far is even higher.

Again, these are higher vote numbers so far than past mid-term elections. Turnouts of this size are usually not seen except in presidential general elections. In Nashville, one clear reason early vote numbers are up is that all the satellite locations countywide are open. In most past elections, you could only vote early at the Metro Election Commission for the first few days. 

For reference, here’s a link to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Election office to track daily early vote and absentee numbers statewide and county by county.

As far as what Early Voting might portend, read this article. It’s written by former TENNESSEAN reporter and editor Jim O’Hara. Jim is also a former Father Ryan High School schoolmate of mine. Jim’s article focuses on the Senate race, but it has another interesting point to make. In recent election cycles, 10 counties in Tennessee (out of 95) generate well more than half the overall vote. So as you watch the early vote numbers come in, watch those counties in particular to see if there are any clues as to which candidate might be building an advantage and what the size of the overall vote might be.

In terms of attack ads, there were, of course, several new ones in the Senate race this week. But they were actually more of the same in terms of attack topics. The Tennessee Republican Party continues to go to new lengths (some might call it depths) in its digital video ads.

Now the Tennessee GOP is into Greek mythology (think Trojan Horse and Phil Bredesen). Read this article from THE NASHVILLE SCENE web site and be sure to click through and watch the video.

One other interesting Senate campaign development to report this week. On Tuesday, Phil Bredesen announced another of his “fresh ideas.” This time he says with the United States “being the largest purchaser of drugs in the world… (we) should have a “most favored nation” clause with all pharmaceutical companies. This would require the repeal of the Non-Interference Clause that prevents the U.S. government from negotiating prescription drug prices for Medicare Part D.”

Perhaps to show his political independence, Bredesen “extended an invitation to President Trump if he comes back to Tennessee to campaign for his opponent to sit down and discuss how they can work together to establish a business relationship with pharmaceutical companies.”

Bredesen added: “I’ve tried to make a point during this campaign that I’m not going against Donald Trump. I’m running for the people of Tennessee and to do what is in their best interest, not work under the assumption of what the President is for or against or Republicans are for or against or Democrats are for or against. I really intend to work with him and so I actually want to present an idea today that I actually think that he might find something that we can work together on given that it is business-like, it has some America First aspects to it, and this, in my mind is certainly something that a lot of people would find very helpful in their own lives.

“President Trump put forth a plan to deal with this, which I think has some very good aspects, but I also think that it nibbles around the edges of what is really a very hard problem in our country. Showing drug prices in advertisements is certainly fine, there’s not much in that regard, there are many things going on in value-based pricing in health care and other areas.”

The Bredesen campaign also believes this issue stands “in stark contrast with Congresswoman Blackburn (who) is too cozy with pharmaceutical companies (and) who have given her $800,000 in contributions during her 16 years in Congress.”

Is President Trump coming back to Tennessee? If the polls stay close, I think he will. But I would be shocked if any meeting with the Democratic Senate candidate occurs, although I suspect Bredesen might use it his new “fresh idea” as an issue, if the President comes back or not.


We talked extensively in last week’s column about recent public polls in the Tennessee U.S. Senate race. They were not good for Democrat Phil Bredesen, although in recent days the poll numbers have changed.

Over the last two-plus weeks, successive polls had shown Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn pulling away. It started with a 5-point lead in a FOX poll, then went to 8 points in a CBS survey. Finally, a poll done by the NEW YORK TIMES showed a whopping 14-point margin for Blackburn with results reported on-line (for several days last week) as the calls were made in the field.

Obviously, it was time for damage control by the Bredesen camp. Here’s a link to an internal memo that went out to Bredesen advisors and supporters. It maintains, based on information from the campaign’s pollster, that the race is still a dead heat with Bredesen down just a point, despite the $20 million-plus in negative TV ads attacks launched against the former governor by a host of outside Super PACs.

The Bredesen memo also cites a fundraising plea from the Senate Conservative Fund which quotes Congressman Blackburn as saying the race is still “too close to call.”

Of course, Team Blackburn may be saying the race is “too close to call” to make sure her supporters are not letting up these next three weeks.

Early this week, CNN POLITICS said the race was still within 6 points (not far outside the margin for error). It listed the contest as still “leaning Republican.”

Early in the week, Nate Silver’s 538 web site had very slightly decreased Blackburn’s odds of winning, going from 3 out 4 last week to 5 out of 9 on Monday. 538 sees the race as 51% Blackburn to about 46% Bredesen and a likely Republican win.

Both on-line political sites have continued to monitor and adjust their projections as more polls came in during this week. Read on.

Candidate Bredesen’s decision to say he would have voted for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has also been an area for damage control for the Democrats campaign. POLITICO ran a story last week talking with several Bredesen campaign volunteers. Some say they are stepping aside from continuing such outreach, although most said they would still vote for the former governor. Some outside Super PAC have also announced they won’t air TV ads in the state to help Bredesen, although some of them hadn’t started anyway.

Stephen Elliot of THE NASHVILLE POST has a fascinating story about damage control efforts underway on Bredesen’s behalf within the leadership of the Democratic Party leadership across Tennessee.

The change in recent polls and the Bredesen damage control effort got some local and national media ink as well… (Read more: Blackburn builds big 14-point lead in New York Times poll, but Bredesen campaign says race still tight)

Beginning mid-week (Wednesday & Thursday) the Bredesen damage control got some validation. A poll released by Reuters found the former Governor trailing by only 3 points and within the survey’s margin of error (which is close to 4%). The next day, a Vanderbilt poll of registered voters says Bredesen is up a point. Those surveys seem to indicate the NYT poll, in particular (a 14- point Blackburn lead), is an outlier. But frankly, in any of these polls the results can vary widely by how the pollsters model the electorate.

Here’s some of the news coverage on the latest polls from this week (as voters no doubt scratch their heads to try and figure out the real status of the race).

New Vanderbilt poll has Bredesen up by 1 point
Vanderbilt calls Senate race a toss-up 
Blackburn holds slim lead over Bredesen in Tennessee US Senate race, new Reuters poll says
Republican has narrow lead in Tennessee U.S. Senate race: poll 
Vanderbilt Poll: Tennessee Senate race a toss-up; Lee in lead for governor

Perhaps in light of these new polls, as of Friday, CNN POLITICS now has the Senate race as a Tossup. The 538 website still has the contest as a Likely Republican victory with Blackburn having 3 out of 4 chances to win (75.0%), while Bredesen has 1 chance in 4 to prevail (25%). 538 projects Blackburn getting 50.7% of the vote, Bredesen 46.0% and the rest (up to 3.1%) voting for other candidates.


The Bredesen campaign released its latest fundraising numbers on Monday. Quoting from a news release:

“More than $6.62 million in receipts were collected during the period beginning July 1 and ending September 30 of this year. Total contributions exceeded $4.62 million during the third quarter. Additionally, Bredesen personally loaned or guaranteed loans to the campaign totaling $2 million. Not including loans, the campaign on average raised more than $50,000 per day during the third quarter.”

“To date, Bredesen for Senate has raised nearly $15 million since Governor Bredesen announced his bid for U.S. Senate in December 2017.”

It turns out Bredesen outraised Blackburn by $2 million in the last quarter even without his latest loan to the campaign. Blackburn is still ahead in overall money raised.

Add both campaigns’ total numbers to the now well-over $30 million plus that outside PACs are pumping into TV ads for both sides (although more support Blackburn), this race is already the most expensive Senate election in Tennessee history.

And the spending (now north of $50 million soon approach 60 million) will continue to grow through November 6. Before this year, the 2006 Ford versus Corker contest was the most expensive Tennessee Senate race.

And if you think you’ve recently seen more attack ads airing against Blackburn you are right.

This year’s governor’s race had taken over the top spot overall for most expensive Tennessee election. That was based in part on the record-shattering amounts of money spent in the Republican primary that had topped $62 million through August. Outside PAC groups in the general election for governor total just a couple of Super PACs, compared to nearly-double digit numbers in the Senate race. Therefore, the contest for the governor’s chair this year could soon become the second most expensive ever in Tennessee.

Part of these record- breaking $$$ campaigns is due to both the Governor’s seat and one of our two Senate positions being open. But a lot of it also reflects the brave new world of almost unlimited campaign spending allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision. It is therefore very possible future election cycle in years when there is no incumbent running to keep a statewide post, could see future records set for total campaign spending.

Our Senate race continues to generate lots of national media coverage this week.

Tennessee women slow to back GOP’s Blackburn in Senate race 
In Tennessee Senate race, popularity squares off against party loyalty after Kavanaugh fight 
Democrats’ smear of Kavanaugh sunk their own Senate chances
Can Phil Bredesen Pull Off the Upset in Tennessee?


Democratic candidate for Governor Karl Dean has some potentially significant company.

Unlike all the other candidates in our statewide races, he has not been receiving any outside Super PAC support. But that has changed. Stronger Tennessee, a group affiliated with the Democratic National Governor’s Association is airing an ad supporting Dean (and criticizing Republican Bill Lee on Dean’s top issue), expanding the state’s Medicaid program. 

Stronger Tennessee is not saying how much money it will be spending to air its ad or if others are on the way. But the fact that the group has come into the Tennessee race could be a sign a national Democratic group think the Dean effort is worth it, even though public polls continue to show him behind Lee by double digits.

Democrats think they are making progress nationally in taking back governorships, so it is interesting they think the Tennessee contest is worth a late effort of support. Even in a year when Democrats are

enjoying a rare advantage overall for campaign monies nationally, there is always huge competition for dollars from national party groups. There is never enough to meet all the needs of every campaign.

Bill Lee got early support from the National Republican Governor’s Association (RGA). Current Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is the Chair of that group and the TV ad it paid for in Tennessee featured Mr. Haslam giving Lee a strong endorsement to be his successor.

The spot ran through most of August right after Lee’s upset win in the Republican primary. Lee himself did not run any ads during that period so the RGA support came at a critical period while Lee was retooling for the general election. The RGA apparently thought their effort here in Tennessee went so well, it shortened the TV ad run and apparently took its money use for ads in the other states to support other GOP candidates.

This week the Dean campaign also announced the formation of a group of prominent Tennessee Republicans and Independents supporting him. Reports THE NASHVILLE POST:

“The statewide chairs of the group are Linda and Mike Curb. The latter was co-chair of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign and a Republican lieutenant governor of California and is the founder of Curb Records.

“Under Karl’s leadership as mayor, Nashville stayed above water during a disastrous flood and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression only to be followed by a historic economic boom,” Mike Curb said in a release. “Success like that doesn’t happen by chance. It takes the right kind of leader who has experience creating an environment of tolerance that attracts people from all walks of life.”

The group is co-chaired by Beth Fortune, formerly senior adviser to Beth Harwell’s 2018 bid for the Republican nomination for governor and press secretary to Republican Gov. Don Sundquist.”

In the polls, Dean continues to trail Republican Bill Lee by low double digits. The Vanderbilt poll did show a high undecided voter number (12%) so Democrats see that as a ray of hope for their candidate.

Dean is also airing a new TV ad with a much sharper message to voters. He says Lee is “extreme” and will “take Tennessee backwards” on key issues such as school vouchers, arming teachers and expanding Medicaid health care in the state. 

As for Lee, he continues his second 95-county tour of Tennessee. His campaign also released a new TV ad. This one focuses on his plans for education, giving more details about his plans for more technical training. It would be required for all Tennessee students, starting as early as middle school. 


All of Tennessee K-12 students usually get the chance to visit our State Capitol. But one recent Capitol tour (and what the students from Wayne County were required to wear) is getting statewide publicity and could become an issue in an already controversial state legislative race in that community.


“State Capitol field trip raises questions

High school seniors from state Rep. David Byrd’s district were told to wear shirts promoting the Republican legislator during a Monday visit to the state Capitol, possibly in violation of state law.

Byrd, who is up for reelection amid un-denied allegations that he sexual assaulted teenage players when he was a high school basketball coach, has hosted the event for high schools in his district for four years, The Tennessean reported.

Byrd told the newspaper that students were not required to wear the shirts, but a voicemail left with students indicated that the students should indeed change into the shirt.

Byrd’s nephew is the current principal of one of the two high schools on the trip.

Democratic Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville, who is leading a group seeking to oust Byrd, told The Tennessean that Byrd may have violated a provision of the Little Hatch Act that prohibits school employees from performing campaign-related tasks on school property.”


There are six amendments to Metro’s Charter or city constitution on the November 6th ballot.

By far the most controversial one would create an 11-member volunteer Community Review Board to investigate and recommend policy changes and penalties regarding complaints against the Metro Police Department.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, is opposed to the amendment. They have begun a yard sign campaign and formed a political PAC to air TV, on-line digital and and radio ads opposing the plan.

Here’s the first TV ad from the “Vote No on the $10 Million Tax Hike Committee.”

I am told the Vote No on the $10 Million Tax Hike has a budget to spend of $80 thousand. In a news release, here’s some more rationale for why the group says the Review Board will result in a $10 million tax hike within the next five years.

“According to the group behind Amendment 1, the projected annual cost for the board totals $1,868,500 plus the costs of computers, software and other information technology costs. Even using conservative cost estimates for those services, the annual costs are likely to exceed $2,000,000 per year. The cost estimate also doesn’t include the substantial additional costs likely to be incurred by the Metro Nashville Police Department in responding to requests from the board.”

One thing to note about how Amendment 1 is being marketed by opponents. All their materials say “Vote No.” But when voters go to the polls the choices for all the Metro Charter are to vote “for ratification” or “against ratification.” Might that confuse a few voters looking to “vote no?”

Those in favor of creating the Community Review Board clearly have some support. The issue was placed on the ballot by public petition. Supporters appear to be more grass roots oriented in their political approach, so I am not sure you will see TV and radio spots from them, except perhaps on social media.

Two other items to remember when you go to vote. There are a lot of independent candidates running for governor. Tennessee law to qualify to be a candidate is pretty easy to meet (only the names of 25 registered voters on a petition), so be aware of the multiple choices you’ll find to vote for besides the major party candidates, Bill Lee and Karl Dean.

The same true in the Senate contest , although there are not as many independent candidates in that race.

If you’re voting in Nashville/Davidson County, I would also recommend you take the time to read and become knowledgeable about all six of Metro Charter amendments. You can wait and read the text of each amendment when you’re actually voting. But it will take time to read all the verbiage (especially Amendment 1), and that will slow down the overall individual voting process and create perhaps some long(er) lines.

But above all, please vote!


As of Wednesday, Tennessee voters began selecting their next Governor, U.S. Senator, congressmen, state legislators and some local officials. Early Voting will continue through November 1 with Election Day set for November 6.

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we welcome two of the top officials of Tennessee’s major political parties, Mary Mancini, Chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party and Michael Sullivan, Executive Director of the Tennessee Republican Party. They’ll give us their takes on how things are going in statewide races in Tennessee and what the bigger early vote means.

Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

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