Former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, leading other U.S. Senate candidates in fundraising if not in most of the polls, became the latest to touch down in Memphis this week in one of the statewide fly-arounds that have become an obligatory part of running for office in Tennessee.
Generally, the fly-arounds start in the eastern part of the state and involve stops in Tennessee's four major population centers - Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Memphis - as well as Jackson and possibly other cities with airport facilities. The fly-arounds are billed as "announcement" tours despite the fact that the candidates making them have generally been "announced" and actively campaigning for months already.
Corker, who was introduced at the Wilson Air terminal by former local Republican Party chairman Alan Crone, was greeted by a group that included mayors Sharon Goldsworthy of Germantown and Russell Wiseman of Arlington but seemed somewhat scantier in local activists than his rivals - Ed Bryant, in particular. Corker, who is generally considered the "moderate" among the three leading Republican candidates (the others being former congressmen Bryant and Van Hilleary), spoke in front a sign bearing the slogan "Conservative Principles, Positive Results."
He reviewed his careers as entrepreneur, mayor, and Commissioner of Finance and Administration for former governor Don Sundquist and promised to pursue goals of economic growth, national security, and small government, while "preserving the traditions of faith and family in America." He also touched upon the new hot-button issue of illegal immigration, deploring the nation's "porous southern border" but said he favored "making legal means available for people to work in our country."
In keeping with a new trend among Republican officials and candidates, Corker allowed himself what might be construed as indirect criticism of the Bush administration.
"Somehow or another, since the year 2000, our budget has just ballooned out of control," he said. He said he would insist on "fiscal discipline" in the nation's affairs if elected.
On the morrow of Corker's fly-around, he was hit again in an email circulated by Bryant, his most caustic and consistent critic among the rival GOP candidates. Under the head "Bob Corker Fraud Watch: Day 20," the email continued an ongoing Bryant-campaign focus on alleged irregularities by Chattanooga city officials during Corker's tenure as mayor, which ended in early 2005.
A second Bryant-campaign email on Tuesday accused Corker of "double talk" on the issue of abortion, contending that Corker's current pro-life posture was inconsistent and possibly insincere.
A new Rasmussen Reports poll released Monday showed all three Republican candidates leading Democrat Harold Ford Jr. in sample matchups. Bryant's edge was 45 to 36 percent, Hilleary's was 43 to 35, and Corker's was 39 to 35.
As of the end of 2005, Corker was well ahead of the other Republicans in cash on hand, with upwards of $3.8 million as against Hilleary's $1 million and Bryant's $956,558.
On the Democratic side, Ford has reported fundraising totals of almost $5 million, a figure which dwarfs the $500,000 claimed by party rival Rosalind Kurita, but Kurita has on her recent campaign stops begun charging that Ford expends his proceeds almost as fast as they come in, to little or no effect, while she herself, by contrast, has been husbanding her war chest more carefully.
In two polls conducted by the Global Strategy group in 2005, Kurita held at 15 percent in samplings taken by likely Democratic primary voters, though an April 2005 released by her own campaign showed her to be leading the Memphis congressman at the time by a margin of 44 to 39 percent in samplings done after "information about both candidates" had been supplied to those polled.
Democratic candidates for local countywide positions appeared together on Saturday at the first "cattle call" since the previous week's withdrawal deadline. The occasion was a forum sponsored by the Germantown Democratic Club and held at Germantown's Pickering Community Center.
A generous number of candidates for the various offices turned out, with the most sparks being generated when Juvenile Court clerk candidate Shep Wilbun, a former clerk attempted to one-up opponent Wanda Halbert's reform ideas, maintaining that, during his tenure, which ended in 2002, he had "already achieved" most of them.
A previous engagement deprived District 5 county commission candidate Steve Mulroy of the prospect of a one-on-one with primary opponent Joe Cooper, who claimed to have co-sponsored the local legislation which brought about the development of Libertyland while a member of the old County Court. This was a propos Mulroy's ongoing efforts to maintain the theme park as a local attraction. (See "Saving Libertyland" in the March 3rdFlyer.)
The final lineup of candidates for the District 5 seat, the deadline for which was extended a week because of incumbent Bruce Thompson's last-minute withdrawal, was: Mulroy, Cooper, and Sherman Perkins Kilamanjaro among Democrats, and Jane Pierotti,D. Jack Smith and Joe Townsend among Republicans.
At least two Memphis-based judges are rumored to be serious prospects for one of the two state Supreme Court vacancies that will open up due to the pending retirements of Justice A.A. Birch and Riley Anderson. They are Circuit Court Judge D'Army Bailey and Criminal Court of Appeals Judge J.C. McLin.
Filling a Supreme Court vacancy in Tennessee entails a complicated process involving evaluation of candidates by the state Judicial Selection Commission, which then makes recommendations to the governor for each vacancy, usually in a group of three. The governor (who has the option of rejecting all of the recommendations and asking for optional candidates) then makes the final selection.
Because no more than two of the five Supreme Court justices may reside in the same grand division of the state, only one West Tennessean can be appointed to the Court this time around, since Justice Janice Holder of Memphis already holds an existing seat.
The buzz regarding Bailey and McLin, both African Americans like the retiring Birch, stems from the likelihood that both the Selection Commission and Governor Phil Bredesen would look favorably on the maintenance of an "African American seat" on the Court.
Mike Bottoms of Nashville, chairman of the Selection Commission, said last month that he believes both positions can be filled by September 1.