Ed Bryant seems a sure thing for a U.S. Senate race in 2006. Marsha Blackburn is noncommittal. And Harold Ford Jr., who may have other fish to fry, is iffy.
Those conclusions -- which presuppose that current GOP majority leader Bill Frist will vacate his seat so as to prepare a presidential run in 2008 -- are based on interviews with Republicans Bryant and Blackburn over the weekend and on scuttlebutt concerning Ford that is rapidly escalating into Conventional Wisdom.
To start with the latter: Though the 9th District's soon-to-be-34-year-old U.S. representative would stoutly deny any lack of interest in his congressional duties, Ford is known to be much more preoccupied with the national scene -- and with his own prospects there.
Hardly an evening goes by -- and certainly not a whole week -- without an appearance by Ford on some or another prime-time political talk show. Moreover, big-time national pundits -- like David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times and The Weekly Standard, who gushed about Ford to fellow reporters in Iowa one afternoon -- often react to the congressman like starstruck fans on a movie lot.
If Ford were, in fact, in an entertainment field, he might already be at the top -- a la Elvis or Michael Jackson or any other shooting star. But he isn't. Au contraire. As a career, politics is characterized by slow and incremental steps.
If Frist follows through on the two-term-only pledge he took when first elected to the Senate in 1994, his seat will in fact be open in 2006. And the likelihood of that is enhanced by the senator's need to be unencumbered as he looks forward to an all-but-certain presidential race in 2008.
Ford knows that a Senate bid in 2006 won't be a walk in the park. The complicating factors include those of race and relationships -- does being an African American still matter? does being the nephew of state Senator John Ford? -- as well as the simple fact that Tennessee has been tending Republican in recent years.
The latest buzz is that Ford may get to bypass the trial-by-fire of a statewide run in 2006. He is national co-chair of the presidential campaign of Massachusetts senator John Kerry, who is both the odds-on favorite to become the Democratic nominee and currently leading President Bush in certain polls.
Should Kerry win, current talk goes, Ford will get a cabinet position -- the post of secretary of education would be a good fit -- and would have leapfrogged his way to national prominence.
Meanwhile, the Republicans: Former 7th District congressman Bryant, who was beaten in the 2002 Senate primary by current incumbent Lamar Alexander, made it clear at last weekend's annual GOP Lincoln Day Dinner that he wants to try again for the Senate in 2006. "The old network is still in place," he noted.
Bryant is sure to be opposed by Chattanooga GOP congressman Zach Wamp, but his severest test might come from fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn, who handily defeated several other contenders for the right to succeed Bryant in 2002.
Blackburn was at Lincoln Day too, but she declined to look so far ahead in 2006, preferring to focus on pending legislation and her current status as an assistant Republican whip in the House. But she almost certainly should be counted in as a Senate contender.
In a speech last year to local Republicans, Bryant suggested that Blackburn might be a candidate for the governorship in 2006. He wishes.
In fact, as various ranking Republicans conceded at Lincoln Day, state Republicans are going to play hell finding someone credible to run against incumbent Democratic governor Phil Bredesen, whose suggestions last week for shrinking TennCare (see Editorial) basically recapped official Republican proposals of recent years -- as, indeed, have many of the programs so far enacted by the budget-conscious incumbent.
• Quote of the Week: "I don't want to meet him outside. I want to meet him at the Health Department. I want him to piss in a cup so we can see what he's on." -- Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor on his altercation last week with Mayor Willie Herenton at a contentious meeting between the council and the mayor.
Lt. Governor John Wilder, avowing that he was "not on an ego trip" and was ready to "do another deal" if the state Senate chose in the near future to elect someone else as speaker, on Saturday defended his "nonpartisan" conduct of the presiding position which the octogenarian and nominal Democrat has held since 1971 and delivered himself of some unusually straightforward opinions.
Addressing attendees at the monthly Dutch Treat luncheon at the Piccadilly restaurant in southeast Memphis, the Somerville lawmaker cautioned at one point that "I'm going to turn some of you off." There was no indication, however, that he did so with Saturday's conservative-oriented audience -- even when he expressed himself bluntly on issues relating to the courts.
"Our United States Supreme Court says separate was unequal," he mused. "It took them 75 years to find out separate wasn't equal. They said it had to be identical. Identical! What did they do? They went to preferential treatment." Wilder segued from the issue of "women and blacks going against white men for jobs" to that of abortion, concerning which the lieutenant governor said, "They discriminated against all men. What about the husband? Ought not it be a unanimous decision to kill the baby? Or does just one of them have the right to kill the baby?"
Wilder was equally adamant about what he considered judicial presumption on the issue of a state income tax -- the controversial and polarizing issue on which the Senate speaker maintained an ambivalent position during the last stormy years of the administration of Republican governor Don Sundquist. Wilder was anything but ambivalent Saturday, though.
"It's unconstitutional!" the speaker thundered at one point, going on to say, "When the court rewrites a constitution, they violate their oath to uphold the constitution. That's an impeachable offense." At another point, he characterized judicial overreaching as violating "an oath to Jesus Christ."
Wilder was also critical of a ruling by the Internal Revenue Service which prevented him from preparing legislation that would redefine the sales tax as a "privilege" tax, thereby making it subject to deduction from one's federal income tax. The lieutenant governor has crusaded for years to achieve such a result on the ground, as he normally puts it, that "Uncle Sam taxes taxes."
During a Q&A session, audience member Jim Jamieson complained of unnamed Senate committee chairmen who were "embarrassing" to the state and Shelby County and were guilty of "political arrogance and unethical behavior." He later identified the main subject of his scorn as state Senator John Ford.
Meanwhile, Wilder evidently divined as much. "We probably don't see eyeball to eyeball. I think I know who you're talking about," he responded, "and he has a lot of ability you don't know about, and he has a lot of honesty and integrity you don't know about. And he knows health care pretty well."
The speaker had devoted much of his prepared remarks to a demonstration that TennCare had proved to be an almost ruinously costly program and was crowding out spending on other state programs. "Our cash flow has been good, but our problem has been TennCare. It has eaten us alive," he said.
Wilder's remarks on the subject were consistent with recent ones on the same subject from Democratic governor Phil Bredesen, a former HMO executive who has promised to unveil plans -- perhaps as early as this week -- to scale back the state-run health-care system for the uninsured and uninsurable."We have a good governor," Wilder said. "I believe he's the best CEO we've had. He knows health care."
On other issues, Wilder suggested that tax reform was a proper subject for the constitutional-amendment process and defended the fairness of recent Senate redistricting. In response to criticism of the latter, the lieutenant governor noted that Sen. Jo Ann Graves of Lebanon had presided over the last effort but said the efforts of her committee had been "fair," pointing out that the districts of Republicans Curtis Person and Mark Norris, both Shelby Countians, had been left independent.
At one point, said Wilder, a self-proclaimed "no-good Democrat" who almost bolted the party in 1986, he was forced to intervene. The Senate speaker, who boasted that "for 30 years, they [Senate redistricters] did what I told them to do," said he took care of a complaint from Sen. Roy Herron (D-Dresden), who lamented that his district had been drastically changed while that of Wilder had been altered to put challenger Bob Schutt "way off in the bushes." Said Wilder: "I told him, 'I'll leave you just exactly where you are and I'll beat Bob Schutt,' and that's what I did."
With Tennessee's potentially decisive presidential primary only a day away, John Kerry was sitting in one of those little captain's chairs waiting for the TV crew, the latest in a series of local-press types, to start what could only be in the time allotted a pro forma interview in a small holding room.
"Senator, what does the congressman's support mean to your campaign?" Kerry, who has increasingly become the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination, was asked. The "congressman" was, of course, Memphis' 9th District U.S. representative, Harold Ford, Kerry's national campaign co-chair, who had just introduced the Massachusetts senator to a local crowd at the downtown Cadre Club, one that had plainly relished Kerry's somewhat elongated speech. Eaten it with a spoon, in fact -- point by elaborate exegetical point.
|Senator John Kerry presses the flesh with the faithful at the Cadre Club on Monday night.|
Kerry, whose manner in private is agreeably modest these days, responded: "Well, it means a lot. He's a popular fellow around here. He's a leader, and he's one of the most popular, articulate Democrats in the country. So I'm honored to have his support, and I think it's very helpful to me."
Ooooops! The sound wasn't working right, the senator was informed. Would he mind repeating what he'd just said after some adjustments?
"I don't mind hearing it again," Ford quipped.
"I'm not sure I can say that again," Kerry quipped right back.
He could, of course, and did. And, when he was asked how important Memphis, and Tennessee, were to his campaign strategy, he answered simply, "I'm here!"
He sure was, and to the overflow Monday night crowd of some 1,200 -- mainly Democratic partisans of all shapes and sizes -- that had just heard Kerry, he did just fine. He took President Bush to task for gutting the economy and wrecking the nation's good name in the world; excoriated "the most inept, reckless, arrogant, ideological foreign policy in American history"; deplored the "Benedict Arnold CEOs" who take their HQs to Bermuda, thereby escaping their proper share of taxation; pledged to strengthen education; and promised to deliver on Harry Truman's dream of national health care.
All that and much, much more -- even volunteering a rare commentary on his own operation within the last year for prostate cancer, one that must surely have contributed to his mid-year slump in 2003 but from which, the senator insisted, he had had a full recovery. Kerry certainly demonstrated stamina Monday night, shedding his suit jacket and pushing the hour hand on his personal clock.
That Kerry talked at such length (a decided contrast to the rhetorical chip shots of Senator John Edwards of North Carolina and the verbal mortar rounds, carefully concentrated, of General Wesley Clark) was received as an enormous compliment by the Memphis audience, conscious that they were listening to an all-but-certain Democratic nominee and a very likely president. It was like getting their own State of the Union address.
|General Wesley Clark works a crowd of Tennessee voters in Nashville on Sunday night.|
Afterward, though, many in the crowd -- even some of those who were most impressed -- wondered out loud if it was really necessary for Kerry to have talked so long. The consensus was that he was maybe 15 minutes over what would have been a good length -- one reason for the overrun being that he had, in the free flow of his talking points, somehow missed bringing his peroration around to his usual concluding challenge for President Bush: "... three words I know he'll understand -- "Bring it on!" Instead, Kerry finished with a promise, once elected, to be able to say, a propos his own foreign and domestic goals, "Mission accomplished!" And the crowd, not to be denied, supplied the "Bring it on!" for him.
It was a night that local Democrats will long remember if Kerry goes on to be elected president. And the new champion lingered longer than planned on Tuesday morning, schmoozing with a crowd at Barksdale's restaurant in Midtown for roughly an hour before hopping his chartered jet for Virginia and his expected victory party Tuesday night.
One of Kerry's rivals, General Clark, had set up his party for Memphis. Clark had declared on Monday afternoon at B.B. King's on Beale that whoever won Memphis would win Tennessee, and whoever won Tennessee would win the nomination. By that standard, Kerry was the optimistic one. His turnout was larger by far than those garnered in the last several days locally by the undeniably hard-working Clark and Edwards.
Clark had generous support, it was obvious, from members of Mayor Willie Herenton's local organization, as well as from city councilman Rickey Peete, Clark's primary host at B.B.'s on Monday. Edwards had the backing of a decent-sized core group, heavy with lawyers and other admirers, like the local Democratic chairman, state Rep. Kathryn Bowers. And Howard Dean, the absent ex-frontrunner, still had loyalists around here and there.
But Kerry now seemed to have everybody else, with the still formidable Ford organization in the van.
And, given what everybody sensed was a new vulnerability on the part of President Bush, who had arguably created more questions than he'd answered in an appearance on last Sunday's Meet the Press, there was a general headiness in Democratic ranks. And a determination, it seemed, to have done with the contest even while only a distinctly modest fraction of Democratic delegates had yet been committed in primary states.
By election eve, the Zogby poll, which had Kerry at 45 percent of the projected Tennessee primary vote, was on everybody's lips. That fact had created a certain bandwagon effect -- bringing some fence-sitters to Kerry's backup chorus Monday night. (Among them was state Senator Roscoe Dixon, previously committed to erstwhile frontrunner Dean. Absent, however, was city councilman Myron Lowery, who had been on local platforms recently with both Edwards and Clark.)
Not that there wasn't a little surviving skepticism. There was, for example, local Democrat Steve Steffens, not one of Monday night's celebrants. Steffens maintains an e-mail network of local Democrats.
Quoth Steffens to his network Monday night anent the general euphoria in party ranks: "I hate to be the crank who tosses the proverbial turd in the punchbowl, but haven't we been here before? It was roughly four weeks ago when my guy Howard Dean had all but been anointed as the Democratic nominee ... [W]hat do we do, good Democrats, if we anoint the good Senator Kerry and he turns out to have his own as-yet-unknown problems? How will he respond to the evil magic yet to be wrought by W's Merlin, Karl Rove? What if he indeed turns out to be the second coming of Ed Muskie, as I have feared?"
As of this week in Memphis, and in Tennessee at large, that seemed to be a minority opinion, though.
(Go to the Flyer Web site, MemphisFlyer.com, for in-depth coverage of Tuesday night's results in the presidential primary and local races.)
TENNESSEE (2/10 primary): Kerry Nabs Double-Digit Win; Gore's Endorsed Candidate Comes In Fourth
from The Hotline
WH '04 Dem Primary Results votes %age Kerry 151,436 41% Edwards 97,746 27 Clark 85,182 23 Dean 16,094 4 Sharpton 6,105 2 Lieberman 3,191 1 Uncommitted 2,708 1 Braun 2,435 1 Kucinich 2,277 1 Gephardt 1,406 - LaRouche 297 -
Exit Polls -- 51% Of Voters Decided In The Last Week
ÊÊÊÊÊ The National Election Pool exit poll; conducted 2/10 by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky Int'l; surveyed 2,513 Dem primary voters as they left randomly selected polling locations across the state; margin of error +/- 3% (AP, 2/11).
WH '04 Dem Primary Vote Men Wom Dem GOP Ind Lib Mod Con Wht Blk All 46% 54% 75% 5% 20% 38% 45% 17% 74% 23% Kerry 41 42 46 20 31 46 41 31 40 47 Edwards 27 27 25 26 32 23 28 32 31 15 Clark 22 23 22 30 25 20 24 26 21 28 Dean 4 4 4 4 7 5 4 4 5 3 Sharpton 21 2 51 21 21 6 Kucinich 1 -1 21 1 -1 1 - Lieberman 1 1 - 5 21 - 21 - Uncommitted 1 1 - 2 21 1 -1 - 18-29 30-44 45-64 65+ Union Military All 7% 22% 49% 23% 15% 24% Kerry 36 42 39 49 43 46 Edwards 25 28 27 26 25 24 Clark 22 20 25 20 21 22 Dean 8 5 4 4 5 3 Sharpton 3 2 2 1 4 2 Kucinich 1 2 - - - 1 Lieberman 1 1 1 - - 1 Uncommitted 3 1 1 - 1 1 When Did You Finally Decide Who To Vote For? All Clark Dean Edwards Kerry Kucin Lieb Sharp Today/Last 3 days/ Last week 51% 19% 4% 31% 43% 1% 1% 1% Last month/Before that 48 25 5 24 41 11 2 Did You Vote For Your Candidate More Because You Think: All Clark Dean Edwards Kerry Kucin Lieb Sharp Can defeat Bush 37% 17% 2% 21% 59% -% -% -% Agrees with you on the major issues 55 27 5 31 31 11 3 Which Comes Closest To Your Feelings About The Bush Admin: All Clark Dean Edwards Kerry Kucin Lieb Sharp Angry 39% 20% 5% 25% 47% 1% -% 1% Dissatisfied, but not angry 45 26 4 24 43 - - 2 Satisfied, but not enthusiastic 11 24 4 37 27 - 2 2 Enthusiastic 3 14 7 35 14 5 10 5 How You Feel About The U.S. Decision To Go To War With Iraq: All Clark Dean Edwards Kerry Kucin Lieb Sharp Approve 26% 22% 4% 32% 34% 1% 2% 2% Disapprove 69 23 4 25 44 1 - 2 Issue That Mattered Most In Deciding How You Voted Today: All Clark Dean Edwards Kerry Kucin Lieb Sharp Economy/Jobs 39% 18% 3% 32% 42% 1% -% 2% Health care/Medicare 19 19 5 27 45 - 1 2 The war in Iraq 15 29 6 16 47 1 - - Education 9 25 5 28 36 1 - 2 Taxes 6 28 8 19 41 - 2 2 Nat'l sec./Terrorism 4 28 4 23 31 - 5 3 Candidate Quality That Mattered Most In Deciding How You Voted Today: All Clark Dean Edwards Kerry Kucin Lieb Sharp Can defeat Bush 25% 15% 1% 18% 64% -% -% -% Cares about people like me 19 23 2 40 29 - - 3 Has right temperament 5 23 9 41 17 - 2 5 Stands up for what he believes 20 27 11 19 34 2 2 3 Has right experience 10 37 2 8 50 11 - Has a positive message 14 19 4 42 34 11 1 He understands TN 2 20 1 49 28 - - 2
ÊÊÊÊÊ ABC's Langer notes "some Southern soft spots" for Kerry -- he
won whites "by a comparatively narrow nine points"; "did much less well with
conservatives"; and "did less well with independents." However, "Kerry's
strengths more than compensated" (release, 2/11).
Ê LOCAL RACES: ASSESSOR OF PROPERTY - DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY - MEMPHIS 277 of 283 prec. reporting Rita Clark, 24,174 - 59 percent Michael Hooks, 16,827 - 41 percent ASSESSOR OR PROPERTY - REPUBLICAN PRIMARY - MEMPHIS 277 of 283 prec. reporting Harold Sterling, 3,155 - 59 percent Bob Kahn - 2,216 - 41 percent GENERAL SESSIONS COURT CLERK - DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY - MEMPHIS 277 of 283 prec. reporting Roscoe Dixon - 21,697 - 56 percent Rebecca Clark, 17,287, - 44 percent GENERAL SESSIONS COURT CLERK - REPUBLICAN PRIMARY - MEMPHIS 277 of 283 prec. reporting Chris Turner - 7,459 - 87 percent Charles Fineberg - 1,136 - 13 percent
City councilman Rickey Peete introduced Gert Clark to a small but adoring crowd at the downtown Marriott Tuesday night as the next First Lady of the United States. Gert, in turn, introduced husband Wes as the next president of the United States. And Clark, in his turn, proclaimed joyously, It doesnt get any better than this! These were all lines that belonged to another script, however -- not the one that was about to be enacted. Having finished third in both the Tennessee and Virginia presidential primaries, the former NATO commander would speak eloquently and thankfully to this supporters, as defeated candidates (at least, up until Howard Deans much misunderstood I Have a Scream concession speech in Iowa) have ever done. Then he would work his way out of the room, confer with Gert, with son Wes Jr., and with assorted aides, and let it be known, an hour or so later, that hed be going back to Little Rock in the morning to announce his withdrawal from the presidential race. It was a gracious passage, and Clarks last stand had surely been an act of grace for Memphis, which had not yet experienced something quite as unique as this bowing out of a warrior who might, but for a few mischances, have indeed become the next president of the United States. The closest thing to it in the citys history was the 1982 Liberty Bowl, in which legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant coached his last game, a defeat, and then gallantly took his leave. There were cries of Dont go, Wes! Dont go! But Clark, who had once thought hed be fighting with North Carolina Senator John Edwards for the right to be the Souths answer to Howard Dean, had been consigned to the role, instead, of Edwards rival for distant second to Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, he of the irresistible -- and largely unresisted -- bandwagon. So he would go. The final percentages in Tennesse were: Kerry, 46: Edwards, 26, Clark, 23; with single digits going to everybody else that was still in, including erstwhile frontrunner Dean. The figures for Virginia were: Kerry, 52; Edwards, 27; Clark, 9. Besides showcasing the exit of Wesley Clark, Shelby County saw other winners and losers Tuesday. In local races, Harold Sterling beat four opponents for the Republican nomination for assessor, his onetime job, earning the right to have another go at incumbent Rita Clark, who beat Sterling eight years ago, and this time disposed of another former assessor, Sterling predecessor Michael Hooks, in the Democratic primary. As expected, Chris Turner, the Republican incumbent, bested process server Charles Fineberg in the Republican primary for General Sessions Court clerk. State Senator Roscoe Dixon won the Democratic nomination over former deputy clerk Becky Clark.
In all of the packings and repackings, the security checks at airports and the sheer pell-mell of rushing around 10 cities in four days on Howard Dean's "Sleepless Summer Tour" last August, only one thing ended up missing in my personal inventory: an hour's worth of taped conversation with Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager and the guru of what many saw as a movement that would change American politics.
Trippi, who had logged time in other presidential campaigns -- those of Gary Hart and Dick Gephardt in 1988, for example -- was credited with devising the whole new panoply of Internet-based techniques -- Web logs, summons to "meetups," and, most importantly, fund solicitations -- that had boosted the once-obscure ex-Vermont governor to the front of the pack of Democratic candidates hoping to bring down President Bush in 2004.
|PHOTOGRAPH BY AP|
Whatever the final fate of the Dean candidacy, which suffered potentially lethal setbacks in Iowa and New Hampshire, it was the Greatest Show on Earth for most of last year into January of this year. And last summer's cross-country Sleepless Tour, which drew large and sometimes idolatrous crowds, may prove in retrospect to have been the very apex of the candidate's fortunes.
Dean made himself freely available to the accompanying media during that barnstorming tour, but his accessibility was nothing compared to that provided by the talkative Trippi, who engaged in a constant gabfest with reporters en route to events, at the sites themselves, and at hotels.
You know the old joke: First prize is an evening with So-and-So, second prize is two evenings, and so forth? Well, So-and-So, thy name is Trippi.
The missing tape was from a conversation at a late-night restaurant stop in either Seattle or San Antonio. (The cities, which also included such stops as Chicago, New York, and Boise, Idaho, went by like blurs.) Trippi was voluble and specific on a number of subjects relating to the campaign, including the likely impact of the entry into the race, then pending, of General Wesley Clark and the chances of wooing Clark as a potential running mate.
On only one subject was Trippi either evasive or vague: What would happen if Dean should peak too soon? The answer he gave was at length, but what it boiled down to was: We'll worry about that if and when it happens -- the implication clearly being that it wouldn't.
|PHOTOGRAPH BY AP|
Well, it did. Considered by most observers to be a shoo-in after his endorsement by former Vice President Al Gore in December, Dean underwent some serial misfortunes: First, the capture of Saddam Hussein both upstaged the Gore endorsement and -- temporarily, at least -- took Iraq off the map. Then Dean -- who, as the acknowledged frontrunner, was undergoing nonstop. ritual batterings from his then desperate rivals -- began visibly to slow down. His basic speech, which once upon a time had been a real rouser, dried up as Dean kept reciting it, all but unchanged, into the new year. And then came disclosures, from old, pre-candidate days, that he had once disparaged the role of the Iowa caucuses in the presidential-selection process.
We all know the subsequent story: the third-place finish in Iowa, the "I Have a Scream" concession speech, the unimpressive second place in the New Hampshire primary. Meanwhile, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry was somehow morphing from a Herman Munster-like stiff into the Man Who.
Arguably even more astonishing was the mystery of Dean's vanishing war chest. Before Iowa, he had raised some $41 million, far and above what his Democratic rivals had done, including Kerry, who had to write a $6 million personal check on his heiress wife Theresa's account in order to stay in the race.
On the night of the New Hampshire primary, Dean told Washington Week's Gwen Ifill that he was determined to keep fighting, in "10 states in 10 days ... if you really think about it, it's 13 states ... in about 13 days." Ifill asked: "Can you afford ... to compete in all states?" Dean assured her: "Yeah, we will compete in every state."
Within 24 hours, that answer was inoperative. It was announced that Dean's holdings were -- like his poll ratings in too many states -- in the single digits. All the way down to a figure between $5 million and $7 million, to be exact. He wouldn't be campaigning in the next seven states -- the ones voting on February 2nd. And then the real shocker: Trippi would be going, to be replaced as campaign manager by former Gore chief of staff Roy Neel, a longtime Washington pro.
In the ensuing flood of crocodile tears from a media which found Trippi as beloved as Dean was suddenly suspect, some important facts were overlooked: One was that Trippi had not been fired; Dean had wanted him to stay on as a strategist, in fact, but Trippi had declared that "two captains" could not share power. More important was the likely cause of the change: overspending by erstwhile manager Trippi.
|PHOTOGRAPH BY AP|
Persistent rumors began to materialize -- as on the TomPaine.com Web site -- alleging that Trippi was getting as much as a 15 percent commission on all ads placed by the campaign, and there were beaucoup of them. Oakland, California, Mayor Jerry Brown, a two-time former presidential candidate himself and a onetime employer of Trippi's, opined in a conversation with Flyer publisher Kenneth Neill last weekend that Trippi was best suited "for fringe candidates like myself," suggesting that the mainstream was not Joe's stream.
If and when Dean has to depart the trail, it will sadden his left-behind legions of supporters -- like Memphis' Stacy Luttrell, a 27-year-old mother who did grunt work in the zero-degree climes of Iowa and New Hampshire for the man she called "the Bobby Kennedy of my generation."
And it won't exactly overjoy those observers of the political game who allowed themselves to be bemused by the prospect of a nominee beholden for a change not to the big lobbies and fat-cat givers -- as all other serious candidates, regardless of party, have been -- but to all those nickel-and-dimers whose average contribution to the campaign amounted to all of $77. And now that piggyback treasury is all busted up and gone. Nice trip, Trippi.
A link between all of this and our local election scene was vocalized Saturday night by state Senator Roscoe Dixon, a candidate this year for General Sessions Court clerk and a prime speaker at an African-Americans-for-Dean function at The Peabody. Addressing a crowd that was sparser by perhaps three-fourths what it would have been if Dean had, as once widely predicted, won in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Dixon declared: "I know I'm running for office, and I'm not supposed to be endorsing candidates, but this man has inspired me. Howard Dean has inspired me to be here, and he's inspired you to be here. That's why we are endorsing Howard Dean, even though he may be [moving now] in the valley of the shadow of death. ... Let's not give up, because Howard Dean's dream is our dream."
|PHOTOGRAPH BY AP|
Portions of Dean's dream will, of course, live on in other candidates -- most particularly in the campaign of the man most likely to succeed him as a nominee-presumptive, Senator John Kerry, whose resurrection from the near-dead in the few weeks since New Year's is something of a mystery, even to such longtime supporters as Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., a national co-chair of the senator's campaign, who was asked about the reasons for Kerry's sudden turnaround in a conference call with Tennessee reporters on Monday.
"These races last for so doggone long," began Ford uncertainly. He then theorized, probably correctly, that the capture of Saddam Hussein in mid-December had probably done much to turn voter attention to former naval officer Kerry, a bona fide Vietnam war hero (and an influential war protester afterward) and to puncture war opponent Dean's longstanding balloon.
That educated guess was followed by a more dubious one. Perhaps understandably, Ford, who, like Kerry, had voted in 2002 to authorize war powers for President Bush in Iraq, wanted to expiate that one. Kerry had gained support, the congressman supposed, by demonstrating that "he had thought long and hard about authorizing the use of force and was able to articulate his reasons."
That was disingenuous by half. In point of fact, Kerry's vote for the war resolution was the one thing the candidate was shying away from in his stump speeches -- dealing with it, if he had to, only in Q-and-A sessions. And the thinking-long-and-hard aspect of his answers could perhaps be attributed more to a need for squaring an obstinate circle than to any quality of thoughtfulness per se.
Still, it was evident in both Iowa and New Hampshire that Kerry's speeches were both crisper and reflected a new quasi-populist note. He spoke of "fundamental unfairness" in the tax code, of a "creed of greed" promoted by the Bush administration, of "Benedict Arnold CEOs who take their companies overseas and stick you with the tax bill," of overfed, over-profiteering drug companies, and of his desire to "complete the mission begun by Harry Truman in 1948" by instituting a national health-care system.
The similarity of most of this to rhetoric that had been uttered by the now-fading Dean for much of the previous six months could be regarded as coincidental. There was consensus among Democrats on these themes, after all -- even if the Truman reference arched close indeed to the "Give 'Em Hell" stump speech favored by Dean during his now-crested rise to national celebrity.
Another argument for borrowing was harder to refute. Like any speaker, Dean had had his inimitable tics -- like his serial invocation of countries which, unlike the United States, provide universal health care. The list, which included, inter alia, "the Dutch, the French, the British, the Belgians," etc., would inevitably conclude with the capper: "Even Costa Rica has a national health-care system." (Dean's audiences had taken to rhythmic foot stomping in anticipation of his mention of the tiny Central American nation.")
Kerry had, no doubt wisely, left the Costa Rica reference to its originator, but he had suddenly found room in his speeches for another idiosyncratic Dean nugget, the lament that the United States, under Bush, had not availed itself of its treaty rights to purchase leftover (and potentially lethal) uranium stocks from Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
None of this invalidated the new appeal of Kerry, of course -- since ultimate nominees have a license, even an obligation, to represent the spectrum of their parties. And, as MarDee Xifaras, an ebullient New Hampshire supporter of Kerry's, had put it: "Date a Dean, marry a Kerry." The looming cragginess that had been vaguely off-putting for much of last year had suddenly come to seem appropriately rugged, even Rushmorean, especially now that the candidate had retooled his speaking and campaigning styles, making the former leaner and less sonorous and achieving a remarkable folksiness in the latter.
Flyer online columnist Cheri DelBrocco, who had an opportunity to observe Kerry in New Hampshire, was struck with the attention -- and warmth -- the candidate lavished on one voter, a woman who had tugged on the senator at the rope line following a speech, telling him of a family casualty in Iraq.
Insiders in the Kerry campaign attribute the sea change in their man almost entirely to the influence of Mary Beth Cahill, an operative schooled in the service of Kerry's Massachusetts Senate colleague, Ted Kennedy. Cahill had replaced Kerry's own former chief aide, Jim Jordan, in November, and in a conclave of Kerry campaign staffers in December had put it to them bluntly, "We can't make a single mistake in January."
They -- and Kerry -- didn't. And the gods gave them luck. "The perfect storm," Memphian David Cocke would call it, as he and other local supporters of Kerry prepared for a Tuesday night election-watch party at the home of Memphian Kerry Fullmer, the senator's first cousin, once removed. Up for grabs this week were delegates in South Carolina, Missouri, Delaware, New Mexico, Arizona, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. Only in Oklahoma, where retired NATO commander Wesley Clark, might win, and South Carolina, home of Senator John Edwards, another aspirant, was Kerry's lead in doubt.
Though both Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich and Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman were technically still in the race, only Clark and Edwards had a chance to block Kerry's march in the short run. And those hopes were almost as long-odds as those of Dean, who was trying desperately to retool for a comeback in later states.
As candidates, both Clark and Edwards had much to commend them. The general -- who had earlier picked up the support of numerous influential Tennesseans (including aides to Governor Phil Bredesen) as a potential alternative to the then ascendant Dean -- now dangled perilously on the cusp of irrelevance.
Adding to Clark's predicament was the fact that his unflattering performance in a couple of recent debates -- notably one in New Hampshire -- had been seen everywhere, while his bravado speeches -- extraordinarily energized and encapsulating an impressive variety of Democratic Party shibboleths -- had been observed only by those who attended the general's barn-burning speeches in the primary states.
Clark's decision to pass up Iowa may in the long run have been the single greatest mistake of the primary season. If circumstances -- say, even a modest stalling of the Kerry bandwagon -- were to somehow allow him an attentive national audience, voters might yet get to contemplate a candidate with a stretch that was arguably even greater than Kerry's -- from wartime valor like the senator's on one end of the stick to the most libertarian of appeals for tolerance of diversity on the other.
Nor was Edwards, who spoke eloquently of "two Americas ... one for the rich, one for everybody else," anybody's slouch. The boyish senator was a successful trial lawyer who had long since developed a remarkable ability to bat his eyes at the women in his crowds while making man talk to the menfolk. And when he said, "The South isn't George W. Bush's backyard, it's my backyard," his logic was obvious, even compelling.
Nor, even if defeated, was Edwards likely to be forgotten. His name was increasingly on the lips of Kerry supporters as the likely vice-presidential pick of the Massachusetts senator.
Just in case the fat lady wasn't quite ready to tune up, both Edwards and Clark were due to hit Memphis this week and were slated to tour the rest of Tennessee. In years past, the state has ended up having to deal with table scraps in the primary season -- after the results in early states had already determined the outcome.
For that reason, the state legislature last year voted to move Tennessee's own presidential primary up to February 10th -- next Tuesday -- and there's at least a chance that, with big states like Ohio, New York, and California still to hold primaries within the next several weeks, the Volunteer State might have a say in determining the final outcome.
Even if so, Bush still possesses the bully pulpit and a fund-raising capacity that can't be matched even by Kerry and the now reeling Dean -- each of whom had, like the president, forsaken the federal matching-fund framework with its built-in limits on candidates' fundraising.
This week's polls showing the president's job approval rating falling below 50 percent is bound to gratify Democrats and trouble Republicans, including a president who must surely be nagged by memories of the fate which befell his father, President George H.W. Bush, a leader who saw his standing soar after a declaration of "mission accomplished" in an Iraqi war, then erode in the national election that followed.
We shall see what we shall see. Let be be finale of seem.
This year's local countywide primary for the offices of General Sessions Court clerk and assessor was moved to the unusually early date of February 10th in order to dovetail with state legislators' wishes to hold a presidential primary that might affect the national results.
That has created organizational and fund-raising difficulties for the candidates -- challengers, especially.
Assessor: Democratic incumbent Rita Clark will have her hands full holding off a primary challenge from Shelby County commissioner Michael Hooks, a former assessor. Hooks ran as an independent against Clark four years ago, without much effect, but he's in far better shape this year.
Clark, however, has done some serious campaigning -- especially among African-American voters who might otherwise be drawn to the Hooks fold. One of her co-chairs is Janis Fullilove, who almost unseated City Court clerk Thomas Long last year.
Republicans vying for the post include another assessor, Harold Sterling, who upset Hooks 12 years ago and was upset in his turn by Clark four years later. Sterling is capitalizing on his established image and has been campaigning energetically. Other GOP contenders are real estate appraiser Grady Frisby, who has attracted good support from those Republicans seeking a new face; real estate broker and former Lakeland mayor Jim Bomprezzi; tax consultant Bob Kahn; and John C. Bogan, a deputy county assessor.
General Sessions Court clerk: Republican incumbent Chris Turner has at least nominal opposition from his primary opponent, process server Charles Fineberg. But Turner's chief long-term opposition is likely to come from state Senator Roscoe Dixon, a Democratic challenger who has made it clear this year -- unlike the case with his 2000 bid for the post -- that he will resign his Senate seat if elected.
Dixon must first make it by fellow Democrat Rebecca Clark, a former chief administrator of the clerk's office. Clark has some party and labor support and could benefit from the prevalence of her surname on the primary-election list (Besides Rita Clark, General Wesley Clark is on the ballot as a presidential candidate.)
Clark in kitchen; Edwards on stump
A day after his chief rivals in Tuesdays Tennessee presidential primary campaigned in Memphis, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry picked up some momentum in the same place. State Senator Steve Cohen came on board Thursday , in a public teleconference with an old foe, 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr. The duet between the two, who dueled in the 1996 9th District Democratic primary and have never been close, was so cozy -- with Cohen calling Ford a great congressman and Ford congratulating Cohen on his career achievements, including his successful sponsorship of the state lottery -- that at times they sounded almost like running mates. Neither would venture a prediction on Kerrys showing, but each noted that the senator is doing well in statewide poll soundings so far. Ford has been a national co-chair of the Kerry campaign, while Cohen was formally neutral until Thursday. The teleconference emanated from the state senators Midtown Memphis home. Retired General Wesley Clark and North Carolina Senator John Edwards, winners in this weeks primaries in Oklahoma and South Carolina, respectively, made morning appearances in Memphis on Wednesday, and both served notice that theyll be spending beaucoup time in Tennessee between now and Tuesday. Clark launched a bus tour from Memphis which scheduled several Tennessee stops on Wednesday and Thursday, and Edwards also went on to other appearances in the state. Each will retrace his steps at least once, with another Memphis stop scheduled for both. Both candidates claimed momentum for their efforts on Wednesday, with Clark emphasizing his call for a higher standard of leadership and Edwards promising an end to a condition in which there are two Americas, one for the wealthy and one for everybody else. As if conscious of his need to draw distinctions between himself and Edwards, who is widely considered Kerrys current chief contender, Clark threw down the gauntlet during an energized appearance at a pancake breakfast at the Arcade Restaurant in downtown Memphis. Distinguishing between himself and unnamed other candidates, Clark noted that they seemed now to oppose a series of Bush-administration initiatives, ranging from tax cuts to the No Child Left Behind education act to the controversial Patriot Act to authorization for the war in Iraq, but, in each case, said Clark, they voted for it! By the time Clark hit Jackson later in the day the names John Kerry and John Edwards were expressly included in that stretch of the general's reconfigured stump speech. In an email to reporters later, and Edwards campaign spokesperson said, Wesley Clark is doing what desperate politicians do when they are losing ground - resorting to misleading negative political attacks.... These negative attacks from Wesley Clark represent the very type of political, petty sniping voters are so tired of. The email goes on to contend that Senator Edwards has differences with President Bush on No Child Left Behind, as well as important issues like trade, jobs, and tax cuts for the wealthy, and counters Clarks attack with It is ironic that somebody who made hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying the Bush administration and changed his positions on numerous issues would now accuse others of acting like Washington politicians. At his Wednesday morning appearance in Memphis, Edwards appeared in the lobby of The Opheum theatre with several local Democrats, including prominent African-American city councilman Myron Lowery, who introduced him. Lowery had previously munched pancakes at Clarks Arcade affair. The North Carolina senator made an appeal in Memphis, as he had elsewhere on the campaign trail, to recommit the Democratic Party to a defense of civil rights. Shelby County Democrats, gathering at Coors Brewery for a straw poll Thursday night, gave Kerry a slight lead over Edwards, Clark, and the rest of the field. The vote was: Kerry 42; Edwards 37; Clark 24; Howard Dean 11; Dennis Kucinich 2