In 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore sealed his doom quite as much by narrowly losing home-state Tennessee's 11 electoral votes as he did by ending up on the short end of Florida's celebrated recounts. Those 11 votes would have put him over.
Depending on what poll you're looking at, the Volunteer State is either up for grabs again in 2004 or going big-time President Bush.
The last Zogby poll had it close -- even though the Democratic standard-bearer this time, John Kerry, is a supposed "liberal" from far-off Massachusetts. Indeed, though there were occasions both in early summer and early fall when President Bush owned a substantial lead over Senator Kerry, the Zogby poll's soundings have fairly consistently shown the race to be tight. At least three times, Kerry has been ahead.
The poll taken of likely state voters on October 7th showed the GOP's Bush to be leading Kerry by only a single percentage point, 49 percent to 48 percent, with independent Ralph Nader at 3 percent. That sample, of course, was taken after the first presidential debate, one which most observers regarded as a Kerry win. The previous Zogby poll, on September 21st, had it Bush 52 percent, Kerry 46 percent, and Nader 2 percent.
And those previous Zogby figures are in the same universe with findings released this week by pollster Ken Blake of Middle Tennessee State University, whose soundings -- done of 624 Tennesseans in the October 4th-15th time frame -- show Bush over Kerry in Tennessee, by a margin of 50 percent to 39 percent.
Reactions to the two polls reflected partisan leaning. Said Shelby County Republican chairman Kemp Conrad, "We've always thought the president had a double-digit lead, because I don't think the liberal ideology of Senator Kerry, who is even more liberal than Al Gore was, plays any better in Tennessee than Gore's did. That said, we're not going to be complacent, and we're going to bend our efforts in Shelby County to cutting Gore's 2000 margin here, some 49,000 votes, in half. That's very doable."
But David Cocke, head of the Kerry-Edwards effort in Shelby County, saw things differently: "The Zogby poll historically has been more accurate than others, and we're encouraged not only by the last one but by the whole series of state polls Zogby has done this year. They make it clear that Tennessee is highly competitive, and we think we can bring it back into the Democratic fold."
Interestingly, both Conrad and Cocke expressed reservations about the methodologies of the polls showing their man behind. And, one way or another, the accuracy of preference polls has increasingly come under scrutiny in this presidential election year. (See Editorial, page 12.)
æ Moore's the pity: The jury is still out on what happened to the much-ballyhooed appearance of Fahrenheit 9/11 filmmaker Michael Moore, who was scheduled to be the headliner at a Democratic Party rally on Saturday at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church.
The rally was held but sans Moore. His place was filled by various local speakers, including former Shelby County commissioner Vasco Smith; state representatives Joe Towns and Henry Brooks; Shelby County Democratic chairman Kathryn Bowers; Cocke; local Kerry-Edwards coordinator Kerry Fulmer; and lawyer Ruby Wharton.
Local Democrats had been given the bad news of a Moore cancellation on Friday afternoon via e-mail and telephone. As Bowers put it in part: "In light of the fact that Mr. Michael Moore, the Director of Fahrenheit 9/11, has been ill with the walking pneumonia and the planned demonstration by the local Republican Party, we are relieving Mr. Moore of his commitment to come to Memphis to help us with our kick-off for Early Voting Educational Awareness Rally."
But Conrad, whose Republicans held their own rally at local party headquarters on Saturday, was skeptical. From a Conrad e-mail: "He [Moore] cited illness as his reason for canceling, though he spoke at UNLV and appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night, and he is still scheduled to speak at an event in Madison, Wisconsin today. There was not even a mention of a Memphis visit on his official Web site yesterday."
æ The Shelby County Commission's vote on a new commissioner to fill the seat of Linda Rendtorff, now director of county services, was due to happen, finally, on Wednesday of this week after at least two reschedulings. Front-runners were still Billy Orgel and Wyatt Bunker, with leading fallback candidates Mike Ritz, Mike Carpenter, and George Flinn -- the latter of whom was visibly picking up steam among both Republicans and Democrats.
æ Governor Phil Bredesen, in Memphis last week for the swearing-in of state Criminal Court of Appeals judge J.C. McLin, was fresh from two West Tennessee stump appearances with Lieutenant Governor John Wilder, who is in a close race with Republican challenger Ron Stallings. Said Bredesen: "I'm for the Democrat. I'm for Governor Wilder strongly," though he acknowledged, "There's no question that we've had our differences. We've put those behind us."