Willie Herenton’s first significant venture into all-day campaigning in the 9th District wasn’t a mammoth effort, but it was a significant one.
A small but sturdy group of supporters of Herenton’s congressional campaign — enough to make up a caravan of nine or ten vehicles — accompanied the former mayor on a motor tour of the district, stopping periodically at major intersections to wave signs and yell greetings and slogans to passing motorists.
Herenton — who was front and center himself at these stops — got what surely was an encouraging amount of honks from drivers passing by, some of whom slowed down to engage Herenton in conversation.
This is Willie Herenton, winner of five mayoral elections, campaigning:
Leaving Herenton’s campaign headquarters on South 3rd at roughly 10:30. Herenton’s motorcade—blaring out R&B numbers from one of the vans — wove its way through several South Memphis stops before heading down Winchester to a stop in Hickory Hill, thence to the Orange Mound Community Center and to points in north Memphis. At several stops, including Orange Mound and a flea market at New Hope Baptist Church, Herenton got to do a little speechmaking. At New Hope and at Hickory Hill, he was met by TV news crews.
The tour was partly structured and party improvised, and it surely didn’t call on much in the way of financial resources. By itself, it could not be considered threatening to the huge lead that incumbent 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen is alleged to hold in the Democratic primary contest (a lead that Herenton and his supporters insist doesn’t really exist). But what it suggests for the immediate future should be of concern to Cohen.
Any fair-minded observer watching Herenton wielding a sign and waving and getting honks would have to conclude that the former mayor’s cachet\, his charisma, and his legendary place in the history of Memphis politics (and of African-American involvement in politics, particularly) are all live and well and could be fanned into a fairly significant piece of electoral combustion if Herenton continues the kind of show-the-flag campaigning — cheap but effective — that he undertook on Saturday.
Whether this means that Herenton — whose level of committed support was pegged at 9 percent in one recent poll (to Cohen’s 62 percent) — could rise into the 30-percent bracket by the August 5th primary date, or (more ominously for Cohen) into higher and seriously challenging percentage brackets remains to be seen.
But here is a case in point. Rather mischievously the caravan was routed past several Cohen checkpoints — the congressman’s Whitehaven Plaza headquarters, for example, and the residence of Cohen supporter Anthony “Amp” Elmore on Semmes. Nobody came outside to respond to the mayor’s amplified (and good-natured) taunts at either of those places, but there was a telling event at the residence of a woman half a block up the street from Elmore.
She happened to be outside as the caravan crawled by, and she waved at it, as so many people had done all day (including one paraplegic who had rolled himself dangerously into a South Memphis street to do so.) What made this interesting was the fact that she had a Cohen sign in her yard. (Such signs were not infrequent wherever the motorcade went.) What made the situation even more interesting was the fact that she was talked into uprooting the sign.
Maybe the Cohen sign went back as soon as the caravan had passed, and maybe such loyalty switching as it might indicate would be miniscule at best. But maybe, too — well, maybe the Cohen campaign better take all of this seriously,
The fact is that at an eqivalent stage of the 1991 Memphis mayor’s race incumbent Dick Hackett was considered to have a lead in the 60-percent range, with challenger Herenton trailing well behind. And we know how, with the aid of some highly concentrated late blitzing, that all got transformed.
Just sayin’. This congressional race may end up with a smashing Cohen victory, as almost every prognosticator (including myself) has suggested up until now. But it ain’t over. Maybe it hasn’t even hit its stride.
The reference to Connecticut is to the home state of Rabidoux, a professor of politics and law at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, and a bona fide Tennessean these days.
Whether he’s a bona fide candidate as well is another matter. The under-funded Rabidoux is still a relative unknown in most of the sprawling 7th District, which spans from the suburbs of Memphis to those of Nashville and takes in 15 counties. Rabidoux has circulated an Internet ad — a rudimentary piece of graphics attacking Blackburn for her alleged ties to Big Oil — and local supporters are trying to disseminate some yard signs and bumper stickers.
Blackburn, meanwhile, like her ideological opposite number and neighboring congressman, Steve Cohen of the 9th Congressional District, has money, all the advantages of incumbency, and something of a national celebrity. She is an assistant GOP whip in the House of Representatives and a frequent interviewee on national TV talk shows.
For much of Thursday her mission was to use her celebrity on behalf of other Republican candidates for Congress. She introduced Alan Nunnelee, a candidate in Mississippi’s First Congressional district, at a luncheon at the Chickasaw Country Club, then whisked over to Jonesboro to give a helping hand to Rick Crawford, a candidate in Arkansas’s First Congressional District.
All the while, Blackburn says, she stays in touch with her own 7th District — partly through visits and forums and partly through what she calls “freedom networking” via Facebook and her congressional newsletter and other means.
She is absolutely certain that her advocacy of limited government and minimal spending accurately reflects the sentiments of the district. She vaunts her opposition to every stimulus plan and bailout, those of George W. Bush as well as those proposed by Barack Obama. “I’ve been against pre-TARP, TARP, and Son of TARP,” she quips — the acronym TARP standing for “Troubled Asset Relief Program.”
Blackburn warns about a federal deficit over $ 1 ½ trillion and a federal debt that’s risen to $15 trillion, and she maintains that “small business” is being strangled by “bureaucracy, rules and regulations.”
She notes that the five-percent across-the-board spending cuts that she advocated as a state senator in 2002 were considered extreme at the time but were exceeded by the nine-percent cuts finally enacted by Democratic governor Phil Bredesen, who took office later that year. And she now has active proposals in the U.S. House for across-the-board cuts in federal spending.
She doesn’t anticipate getting them to the floor with Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California as Speaker of the House. And that’s one reason she’s willing to put herself on the line in swing districts like the ones in Arkansas and Mississippi.
“In eight years I haven’t had a week off, and very seldom do I take a day off,” said Blackburn, who went on to calculate that she had done something related to her job or to her ideological mission every single day during the previous eight months.
As recently as 2006, Blackburn won a national political website’s online poll and was designated “the Hottest Woman in U.S. Politics.”; For all that, and for all her current activity, she didn’t get a mention in the July 3 issue of Newsweek, which featured South Carolina Republican gubernatorial nominee Nikki Haley and, in a sidebar, cited several other exemplars of the “the supposed hotness of Republican women.”
But friends and foes alike should take note: Marsha Blackburn is still on the case.
With little more than a week to go before early voting and less than a month before the polls open for the August 5 general countywide election, the two contenders for the office of Shelby County Mayor — interim mayor Joe Ford, Democrat, and Sheriff Mark Luttrell, Republican — will take part in a televised debate Thursday night on WMC-TV, Action News 5, from 7 to 8 p.m.
The debate is being held under the auspices of WMC-TV in conjunction with the League of Women Voters and the Memphis Urban League Young Professionals. Panelists asking the candidates questions will be Jackson Baker, senior editor of the Memphis Flyer; Karanja Ajanaku, executive editor of the Tri-State Defender; and Jonathan Lindberg, publisher of the Main Street Journal.
UPDATE: Candidate Mcwherter on Wednesday issued the following press release condemning the federal government's suit against the Arizona immigration law:
McWherter Denounces Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Arizona Over Controversial Immigration Law
Cites Federal Government’s Absolute Failure to Secure US Borders as the Real Problem
NASHVILLE, TN – Mike McWherter, Jackson Businessman and Gubernatorial Candidate, issued the following statement today in response to the US Department of Justice's lawsuit against the state of Arizona over its controversial immigration law:
“I think the administration is wrong on this one. Arizona’s trying to get a handle on the immigration policy because of Washington’s total failure to deal with the real problem,” said Mike McWherter. “Immigration has become another political football in Washington and this lawsuit only continues the game, rather than solve the problem. We need to control the border, crack down on businesses that employ illegal workers, and give businesses the tools to quickly and reliably verify a job applicant’s status.”
Having hit a deer on one of the Middle Tennessee back roads he says he’s been traveling the last few weeks, presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter had his father’s Chrysler Sebring on loan and drove it to Memphis on Tuesday. He surely hopes he can borrow the lingering political clout of former two-term governor Ned Mcwherter as well.
Up until now, candidate McWherter has been relatively scarce in these parts and, as he confided to a small crowd of media and supporters at the Hooks Main Library Tuesday, his home folks in Jackson, where he runs a beer distributorship among other businesses, have also been missing his company.
But he assured his audience at Hooks that, while he has good support in East Tennessee and has been doing all that missionary work in Middle Tennessee, he considers West Tennessee, , specifically including the Memphis area, his base. “I grew up around Memphis,” said McWherter, who noted that he bought “the very clothes on my body” here. His son would be attending Rhodes College beginning in the fall, and, for the next four years, he promised, “You will be seeing a lot of me in Memphis, Tennessee, on a very personal basis.”
Noting that he was the only gubernatorial candidate from West Tennessee, McWherter said he would be opening up a headquarters in Memphis and would be stepping up his campaigning in the area, doing so as often as possible in tandem with local Democratic candidates. “I’ve never seen a stronger slate of candidates than we’ve seen this year,” he said, holding out the prospect that, as in 1974, when Democrats regained most of the important state offices from Republicans, the party could do so again this year.
Like another Democrat who has the party nomination locked up, Roy Herron in the 8th congressional district, McWherter emphasized “jobs retention and creation” as major concerns.
He took an apparent shot at Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, the presumed frontrunner among Republican gubernatorial hopefuls, by saying that the current difficult economic times “require more than simply jugging your statistics on TV ads to inflate your accomplishments.”
After his talk at the library, McWherter went to Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue on South Third to lend a hand as part of the “Mike Works” campaign theme which has him doing jobs at various businesses across the state. “I’m looking for indoor work in July,” he quipped.
Of course, he’s also looking for indoor work in Nashville after November, and he doesn’t think he’s been inconvenienced in that quest by the publicity garnered by Republican candidates in the hotly contested three-way GOP primary featuring Haslam, Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville.
After all, as McWherter points out, it is mentioned in almost every article that the winner of that primary will be opposed by himself as Democratic nominee. “I’ve been getting pretty good coverage,” he said.
A spokesman for the Flinn campaign said, “We are unaware of having received an inquiry from Tennessee Right to Life. But George Flinn’s 100 percent record of support for the pro-life position speaks for itself.”
On other matters, Fincher responded to criticism from officers of the Mid-South Tea Party about his absence at a recent 8th district forum arranged by the group, one that was attended by both Kirkland and Flinn. Fincher said he had another engagement the night of the forum and “couldn’t get out of it.” He said he had apologized to Mid-South Tea Party for not being there.
Asked about another charge, this one from Kirkland, that he was running as a Republican but had voted earlier this year in a local Democratic primary election in Crockett County, Fincher said he valued the franchise “fought for by our veterans," and said, “We only have Democratic primaries in Crockett County. You cannot vote if you don’t vote in Democratic primaries.”
Fincher called the charge “desperate” and added that Kirkland himself had voted several times in Democratic primaries in Madison County
In a comprehensive group interview (second in our series), the Chattanooga congressman talks turkey on his own vision and on why Bill Haslam (“Bobby” in Dallas) is not equipped to run the state.
Video and titles by Chris Davis
Opening monologue: The Tennessee Technology corridor; Getting Chattanooga renewed; “a vision for the future of our state;” Tennessee’s advantages; working on reading levels; a “very unhealthy” state; a health-fitness-nutrition agenda; “safe communities”
Opening monogue (continued): Establishing drug courts; the problem of illegal immigration; “I have demonstrated the leadership, and they’re all following what I’m doing;” Haslam’s “boatload of money” and “trying to buy the election;” “I’m running “the best television campaign in the country;” Haslam as “the most overstated candidate in the history of Tennessee,” as scofflaw on income tax disclosures, as holder of “the most inflated resume in history,” as comparable to Bobby Ewing in TV’s Dallas; how Ron Ramsey’s going backwards.
The Ten Commandments and the House on C St. in D.C.; “I’m a pluralistic respecter of rights;” local governments making decisions; won’t deny religious convictions; foe of radicalization of religion; unfair attacks on the Akins-Crisp P.R. firm; a “smear;” on the one TARP bill he voted for (out of several); the error of “too big to fail;”Hank Paulson’s conflicts of interest — and Haslam’s (“hundreds” of them)
Signing the Shelby County Commission’s “full-funding” pledge for the Med; the Med and Erlanger; breaking from the GOP leadership on “12 issues;” neither party has exclusive purchase on truth; Tom DeLay’s knock on the door at 5 a.m.; “a loyal conservative;” on “speaking my mind;” dealing with “an attack on my son” and accusations concerning a volatile temper; “cool under fire;” “Yes, I’ve got passion;” a state “Establishment” supporting Haslam and centralizing power
On the Tea Party movement and people’s fear that we’re losing our way of life; on not “pandering” to the Tea Party; more on Memphis and the University of Memphis having its own governing board; on showing the legislature “why Memhis matters;” Memphis as having the greatest economic potential in the state; on naming a Commissioner of Economic Development from Shelby County; on intent to spend more time in Memphis and Shelby County than anywhere else; on grading Governor Bredesen on taking charge of the legislature; on Haslam’s being “run over by the legislature.”