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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, September 21, 2018

Posted at 5:48 PM, Sep 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-21 18:48:27-04


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

September 21, 2018



I have thought for months the Supreme Court nomination of Appellate Judge Brett Kavanaugh had the potential to be a major, perhaps deciding, issue in Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race. Now the matter is clearly growing in importance, although in a way no one likely anticipated.

Before this week, the appointment seemed headed for a party line committee vote for approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Then came anonymous reports that, over 30 years ago, Cavanaugh attempted to sexually assault a young woman while both were in high school.

The Judge has denied the charges while the woman involved has now come forward to identify herself (Christine Blasey Ford). Her lawyer says her client wants to present her case to the Judiciary Committee and have a further investigation by the FBI. The situation has remained in controversy and in flux all week with both sides negotiating to keep the political and public relations high ground on this explosive subject matter.

The Tennessee involvement in this controversy emerged quickly when Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker was among the first GOP lawmakers to say the nomination vote should be delayed until the charges were dealt with by the committee one way or another.

“I think that would be best for all involved, including the nominee,” Corker said to POLITICO about postponing the vote. “If Ford wants her side of the story to be heard, Corker said, “she should do so promptly.”

All this uproar immediately put the heat on the two Tennessee candidates seeking to take Corker’s seat to take a position. On Monday, Democrat Phil Bredesen took a stance similar to Corker’s.

Via Twitter he said:

“Dr. Christine Blasey Ford should be heard. If U.S senators are not going to give a careful and thorough consideration of Supreme Court nominees, then I don’t know what they think their job is.”

GOP candidate Congressman Marsha Blackburn at first called the accusations a “delay tactic” and a “smear campaign” against Judge Cavanaugh. She said the Judiciary committee vote should go on as scheduled. But then, as negotiations began and the GOP leadership (and President Trump’s) position began to evolve, so did her position, slightly. Blackburn says Mrs. Ford should be allowed to testify under oath, but that the votes on Judge Kavanaugh should move ahead.

"I think Judge Kavanaugh is eminently qualified," she said. "I do believe he is going to be confirmed."

With the negotiations changing back and forth daily, sometimes hourly, Senator Corker and the Senate candidates have wisely become quiet on the issue late in the week, waiting for a final outcome about any hearings and/or investigations.

The women’s vote is a key factor in the Tennessee Senate race. Every poll (including the CNN survey out this week) shows Phil Bredesen with a sizable advantage in that demographic (CNN: Bredesen 58% Blackburn 37%). In the age of, and with rising support for the “Me Too” movement, how both candidates handle this Kavanaugh issue will be critical. For Blackburn, it is critical as well because building a conservative Supreme Court through the Cavanaugh appointment seems to be a major motivating factor for her GOP voter base.


With everything breaking loose in Washington over the Kavanaugh nomination, it is a real stroke of good luck to have as our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS, one of the foremost experts on Congress, Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer of Vanderbilt University.

As a taste of our conversation, here what the Professor has already been quoted as saying in terms of what the fallout might be either way the Court vote goes. THE HILL reports:

“Vanderbilt University professor Bruce Oppenheimer pointed to a seeming paradox in the Volunteer State: Whoever lost the battle over Kavanaugh’s nomination was more likely to get an electoral boost, he suggested.

“If Republicans go right ahead and confirm him, I think there will be a cost for that to Republicans running for the Senate, because it will activate women who will feel the charges have not been taken seriously enough,” he said.

But he added that if Kavanaugh were derailed, that might also allow Republicans to paint his Democratic critics as overly dogmatic or partisan.”

We will also get Dr. Oppenheimer’s outlook nationally on the mid-term elections. Is a blue-wave coming? Can Republicans use a strong economy to hold on to the Senate and maybe even the House? What about the outcome of the two statewide races in Tennessee?

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The biggest news of the week in the Tennessee statewide races is the CNN poll I referenced earlier . It says Senate Democrat Phil Bredesen is up 5 points over Republican Marsha Blackburn (50%-45%). To my memory, that’s the first time this campaign cycle that either candidate has touched majority support. The 5% difference is also slightly outside the margin of 4.6%, which has not happened in the polls since the August primary.

But the Bredesen folks are not getting too confident. The polls overall have been so back and forth (Blackburn was up 3 in a FOX NEWS poll last week) you could get whiplash trying to follow each round of poll results.

Here are the background details on the CNN poll…

The CNN poll even led one of its political analysts to say the race in Tennessee is now the single most important Senate election in the country…

While I am sure Bredesen supporters are excited to see such positive publicity, I am not sure his campaign sees it that way entirely. Increasingly, one of Blackburn’s major talking points is that a vote for Bredesen will help national Democratic leader such as Senator Chuck Schumer of New York become Majority Leader and help put the national Democrat’s agenda into law. I suspect if there were national news stories coming out that Democrats are going to fall short of retaking the upper chamber in Washington, it might make it easier for some undecided Republicans and other voters to support the former Governor.

In that regard, late this week (Friday), the Bredesen campaign launched a new TV and digital ad. The spot would seem aimed to counter act a recent Blackburn paid message. That commercial portrayed Tennessee Republican voters who claimed they’ve voted for Bredesen before for governor but won’t for the Senate. The Bredesen ad spotlights GOP voters who deliver a different message.

The Bredesen campaign says the Blackburn ad uses “actors parroting fake lines, while the Bredesen 30-second ad features actual Republican voters speaking in their own words:

• John Finch, contractor and former Mayor of Goodlettsville: “I’m a lifelong Republican.”

• Sally Gracey, office manager: “I’m a Republican.”

• Jamie White, law student: “I’m a Republican, but I’m supporting Phil Bredesen because he can work across the aisle and work with both parties.”

• Grady Gaskill, retiree: “He worked with Democrats and he worked with Republicans.”

• Finch: “Sometimes, that means he doesn’t make everybody in his party happy.”

• Tom Cigarran, entrepreneur: “Phil is fiscally responsible.”

• Magi Curtis, public affairs professional: “He worked with Republicans to bring Volkswagen to town.”

• White: “Two-hundred-thousand new jobs while he was governor.”

• Cigarran: “He gets things done.”

• Gracey: “Phil’s certainly different than the crowd in Washington.”

In terms of other new TV ads, the Super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has launched its second TV attack ad on Bredesen. Maybe it is a complete coincidence, but the CNN poll found the top issue on voter’s minds is health care. And that is what this ad and its attacks on Bredesen are about.

The Bredesen campaign immediately released an e-mail trying to refute “the false attacks” including his support for a single-payer health care plan.

“Phil Bredesen has said on the record multiple times that he does not support single-payer health care.”

The e-mail from the Bredesen camp also seeks to dispute the other attacks based on his book, FRESH MEDICINE: HOW TO FIX REFORM AND BUILD A SUSTAINABLE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM. The e-mail ends with this summary (in part): “Bottom line: Phil Bredesen has the track record and experience to help fix what’s broken with our healthcare system and has actually proposed fresh ideas to fix it. “

The Bredesen campaign again got back-up from the POLITIFACT group in assessing the charges in the McConnel PAC ad. POLITIFACT says charges of Bredesen’s support for a single-payer health care system are “Mostly False.”

In a sign of how increasingly important on-line digital ads are becoming in campaigns, the Bredesen team issued its own attack on Blackburn. It’s a nearly 2-minute video showing that while candidate Blackburn has been critical of the former Governor and his cuts to the TennCare, in the past she has praised him on the same subject.

A Bredesen support group, Victory 2018 Tennessee, was also quick this week to tout that (again) the non-partisan POLITIFACT group has found the charge made in pro-Bredesen ad put out last week about Blackburn’s involvement in opioid-related legislation to be “Mostly True.”

Quoting POLITIFACT in its ruling:

“Bredesen said that "at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry," Blackburn was a leading force behind a law that weakened the ability of the DEA to go after drug distributors that facilitated the flow of opioids into the black market.

The record shows that Blackburn was critical of the DEA and was an early leader in reining in DEA powers. It is also a matter of record that the industry spent nearly $1.3 million lobbying for those changes and increased its donations to Blackburn as the legislative process played out.

The only uncertainty concerns what prompted Blackburn’s actions, and the meaning of "behest" has some wiggle room. It can be both a command and a strong suggestion. Blackburn’s office declined to answer our question about her contacts with the industry. Nearly a year after the controversial legislation came to light, Blackburn switched her position.

Because additional information is needed, we rate this claim Mostly True.”

As for the Blackburn campaign, its new ad this week is going back to both her professional and political roots.

Blackburn got some good news this week for almost any Tennessee political candidate. She was endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

On the same day that was announced, the Bredesen campaign released another new TV and digital ad profiling their candidate on this hot-button topic.

Bredesen also met with THE TENNESSEAN editorial board and “said he supports background checks and ways to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining guns,” according to the paper.

This is the TENNESSEAN story on the Blackburn NRA endorsement.

The Bredesen ad has brought a response from the NRA. Reports THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL ON THE HILL blog:

“The NRA called on Bredesen to retract the ad, though it’s unclear what exactly is untruthful about it (the group says Bredesen has a D in its current ranking, but Bredesen speaks only about his time as governor when he had the A). The NRA’s Chris Cox said: “Phil Bredesen opposes the constitutional freedoms of law-abiding gun owners and would be a rubber stamp for Chuck Schumer’s gun control agenda in Washington, D.C. He can’t be trusted to defend our Second Amendment rights.”

One last note on the significant use of digital advertising by the Bredesen campaign. It released five different short videos this week under the title of “Getting Things Done Week.” Here is the fifth and last in the series of ads focusing on Tennessee’s annual Sales Tax weekend.

The other digital video topics include the economy, education, health care, and the environment.


Is abortion about to become a bigger issue in the Tennessee U.S. Senate race?

Marsha Blackburn began her campaign with a video touting, in part, the House congressional investigation she led into allegations against Planned Parenthood including the sale of baby parts.

Now the Tennessee Republican Party has posted a video purportedly showing Blackburn’s opponent Phil Bredesen strongly supports for both Planned Parenthood and abortion, although the audio is hard to hear clearly.

According to THE TENNESSEAN: “Bredesen campaign spokeswoman Alyssa Hansen said the former governor’s remarks were consistent with his longstanding position on women’s reproductive rights.

“As he says in the video, Tennessee voters have long known that Governor Bredesen believes that a woman's decision about her body is a personal decision that belongs to her in consultation with her family, her doctor, and her pastor,” she said.

THE TENNESSEAN also posted this narrative of what the video says:

“Mr. Bredesen, I have a quick question,” the man can be heard asking Bredesen as he shakes his hand. “I was wondering, would you support the pro-choice community and funding for Planned Parenthood if elected to the Senate?”

Bredesen responds by saying he was “not making an issue of this in this campaign,” but that he has “always been there.”

The man continues to ask Bredesen if he would fund Planned Parenthood.

“I’m fine with that,” Bredesen replies. “It’s the funding, the funding for the non-abortion services exists today and I have no problem with that whatsoever.”

The interviewer then asks about Bredesen’s opinion on the organization providing abortion services.

“Well, I don’t have a problem with them doing it, and I have always been pro-choice,” Bredesen said.’

The irony of all this is that the video was allegedly taken in the aftermath of a forum the Bredesen campaign ‘s held last week at Rhodes College in Memphis. That’s where Marsha Blackburn declined to debate the Senate Democratic candidate. The Bredesen campaign tried to use the forum to spotlight his concerns for Memphis. He is still trying to do that this on-line digital ad entitled “Memphis Matters.”


It did not get much news coverage, but this week’s CNN poll had some encouraging news for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean. In this survey he trails Republican Bill Lee by 9 points. Now it might seem strange to say being down almost double digits to your opponent is encouraging. But in the three previous post-primary polls that have been released, the former Nashville Mayor was behind 11 (Gravis), 13 (NBC/ Marist) and 20 points (FOX NEWS).

What happened? Well in this poll, Dean is ahead with women for the first time 50%-44%. He’s even with Lee among likely voters ages 50-64 (47% each) and much more competitive among independents (44%-49%) and college graduate voters (47%-49%). Dean is also getting more solid support among Democrats (91%) as compared to being in the mid to high 80s range.

Bill Lee still has 90% Republican support (91% among Trump supporters) and overwhelming support among men (60%-35%). The poll is weighed 26% Democrats, 33% Republicans and 42% Independent or members of another party.

Is the CNN poll a trend in the Governor’s race? Or is the survey an outlier? Only the next poll will begin to give us some clue.

If you want to look closer at the Governor’s race part of the CNN poll, I am posted the details of the full survey again here.


It seemed to be a quiet week on the gubernatorial trail. Bill Lee is still doing his latest 95-county tour and Karl Dean met with THE TENNESSEEAN editorial board.

There was a bit of confusion, and perhaps some embarrassment for the Lee campaign when the candidate failed to appear for a joint appearance with Dean in Murfreesboro. Organizers learned about the change only about hour beforehand. Lee officials apologized but told a slightly different story about the miscommunication that occurred…

As you can in THE TENNESSEEAN story, Karl Dean did not get upset, or launch an attack on his opponent because of the forum confusion. In fact, this week candidates had a positive moment together on Twitter, even though what was said seemed somewhat ironic given the joint appearance snafu.

LEE: “Happy Birthday to @KarlF.Dean. I appreciate the opportunity to share the stage with you. And I hope you get a minute from the campaign trail to celebrate…Happy Birthday!”

DEAN: “Thanks, @BillLeeTN. Looking forward to seeing you on the campaign trail.”

Nice. Maybe civility in our politics is not dead, at least in this race

The first of three, statewide- televised gubernatorial debates is set for October 2. I am more than certain both candidates will be there.


Two reports this week from Governor Bill Haslam’s office concerning Tennessee’s continued strong economy. One report says “Tennessee’s median household income increased 5.8 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year – the fastest growing median household income in the Southeast and the fifth fastest growing in the United States. The 2017 median household income in Tennessee was $51,340.

The other report says “Tennessee’s unemployment rate remained near historic low levels in August, despite a slight increase… The preliminary, seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate for August was 3.6 percent, just 0.1 of a percentage point higher than it was in July. Prior to August, Tennessee’s unemployment rate remained at 3.5 percent for three consecutive months.

“Tennessee’s unemployment rate continues to be one of the lowest in the nation,” Haslam said. “The fact the rate has seen such little movement over the last year reflects the strength of our state’s economy and our work over the past eight years to develop Tennessee’s workforce to meet the needs of today’s employers.”

Many say Governor Haslam’s legacy focuses on his programs and achievements in education. But he clearly sees his legacy in economic development and jobs as well. These numbers would seem to help make his case and bolster Republican arguments on the campaign trail touting a strong state and national economy under GOP leadership.


Everybody wonders what’s next for those August primary candidates who didn’t win.

It appears Randy Boyd, Knoxville businessman and second- place finisher in the Republican gubernatorial election on August 2, could be in line to be the next president of the University of Tennessee, at least on an interim basis. The appointment could last for up to two years.

That is what the Chair of the newly reconstituted University of Tennessee Board of Trustees is saying.


When Mayor David Briley recently said to the Downtown Rotary Club that the city’s affordable housing situation is “not a crisis,” it created quite a backlash. The Mayor also got into a verbal spat with Councilman At Large Bob Mendes about Metro’s financial condition. The TENNESSEAN’s Joey Garrison has the story linked below. It underlines that, while things appear rather calm on the surface for now at the Courthouse, there are clearly some major tensions bubbling not far below.


Nashville’s new vice mayor, Jim Schulman, was sworn into office this week and he quickly discharged one of his major duties appointing leadership and membership of all the Metro Council committees.

In another November election related development, Metro Circuit Judge Kelvin Jones ruled the charter amendment creating a police review board is legally on the ballot. The city’s Fraternal Order of Police challenged the matter saying the Metro Election Commission used the wrong general election to determine if a petition drive to put the proposal before the voters had garnered enough signatures.

The judge ruled the community effort was successful, the right general election was used to decide if there were enough voter signatures, and that FOP did not have standing to sue anyway.

The issue may not be over. FOP attorney David Raybin says, despite the quick approach of the November election, he believes there is still time, and he will appeal the ruling directly to the Tennessee Supreme Court.