Friday, November 18, 2005

Bryant Gets a Life

The state's anti-abortion lobby lines up behind the former 7th District congressman in the Senate race.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 18, 2005 at 4:00 AM

The abortion issue, which dominates discussion of President Bush's latest Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals judge Samuel Alito, may come to be a major factor in next year's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Or so hopes Senate hopeful Ed Bryant, who announced in a conference call Tuesday that he was the official endorsee of Tennessee Right to Life for the seat being vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Bryant, a former congressman from Tennessee's 7th District, is opposed in the Republican Senate primary by former 4th District U.S. representative Van Hilleary and by ex-Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker.

The two ex-congressmen are generally considered more conservative than Corker and are thought to be mining the same voter base -- a circumstance that has prompted partisans of either candidate to call for the other to leave the field, thereby creating a clear one-on-one race against presumed moderate Corker.

While insisting, "I could win a three-man race," Bryant said he regarded Tuesday's endorsement as "the first step" in persuading Hilleary to step aside. "It would certainly make things easier, and he would live to fight another day."

Brian Harris, the president of Tennessee Right to Life, indicated to reporters that he too had urged a "deeply disappointed" Hilleary to allow the state's pro-life movement to unify behind a single candidate in the Republican primary. Harris stopped just short of saying he had directly asked Hilleary, whom he pronounced "acceptable" on the abortion issue, to step aside.

But, even though Corker has recently made a point of proclaiming himself to be formally pro-life, Harris said he did not regard the former mayor as worthy of support. "That's absolutely correct," he said when pressed on whether Corker was considered unacceptable by the pro-life movement. He said Tennessee Right to Life expected candidates to demonstrate a "history" of continued support for anti-abortion initiatives.

Harris said his organization had already been disillusioned after having given tacit support in the past to "one member of the U.S. Senate" who, he said, "can't seem to decide whether he's for or against human cloning." Harris was speaking of Senator Lamar Alexander, who defeated Bryant in the 2002 Senate GOP primary and went on to defeat Democrat Bob Clement in that year's general election.

Ninth District U.S. representativeHarold Ford Jr., one of two Democratic candidates for the Senate, threw down the gauntlet this week to "all" his opponents, challenging them to "declare publicly how they would vote on the federal budget bill before Congress."

Ford's challenge stands in some contrast to his position last spring when his only declared Democratic rival, state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, sharply criticized the congressman for not being on hand to vote on a prior budget measure favored by the Bush administration.

At the time of that budget vote, Representative Ford was on a campaign swing through Tennessee and was attending state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's annual "Coon Supper" in Covington.

In the news release that conveyed his current challenge, the congressman took the administration's latest budget proposal to task on several grounds -- including cuts in Medicaid, in educational support funds, and in food stamps.

Meanwhile, there's a potential Republican aspirant for Rep. Ford's congressional seat: businessman Mark Wright, who ran a spirited race last year in the crowded Republican primary for the District 83 seat in the state House of Representatives, eventually losing to fellow Republican Brian Kelsey. Undeterred by that loss, Wright said last week he is inclined to raise the bar, degree-of-difficulty-wise, by going for the 9th District congressional seat.

Though it was in Republican hands before being captured by Democrat Harold Ford Sr. in 1974, what is now the 9th District is largely African-American and overwhelmingly Democratic, and Wright, if nominated, will not enjoy the conditions which allowed Republican Terry Roland to do well two months ago against Democrat Ophelia Ford in a special state Senate election.

In that race, to fill the vacancy left by the indicted John Ford's resignation from his longtime District 29 seat, turnout was low, and Roland -- who continues to contest the results -- was able to come within 13 votes of victory.

Even if the state Senate should do the unlikely, voiding that election and calling for a new one when it meets in January, most observers see the chances of ultimate success for Roland or any other Republican as remote.

Even so, he is aware of the degree to which Roland, who had been a relative outsider in the local Republican establishment, has become a figure of consequence in the party, at least in the short haul. And he thinks that he too can rise in the consciousness of his partymates by making a strong effort.

"Somebody has to deliver the message, and I have one to bring," Wright says.

It's official: U.S. attorney Veronica Coleman announced last week that she will seek the Democratic nomination for Juvenile Court judge next year. "This is not a race against anybody. It's a position I'm qualified for and will seek for its own sake," Coleman said.

If national Republican strategists are counting on party solidarity to minimize the dimensions of the ongoing Plamegate scandal and, in particular, of vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby's indictment, they could be in for a rude surprise.

Former congressman Asa Hutchison, the current bearer of Republican hopes as a declared candidate for governor of Arkansas next year, will have none of it. "I will say this about the lessons to be learned about the Scooter Libby indictment," Hutchison said after appearing at an East Memphis fund-raiser in his honor. "That's something that Republicans should not diminish in terms of the seriousness of the charges. There was some reference in talking points about this being a mere technicality, but we should not diminish the seriousness of the charge, because it goes to the heart of our system of justice in this country."

Hutchison, who in recent years has served as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and as under-secretary of Homeland Security, added that "Mr. Libby should have a fair trail with all due process."

Hutchison, whose likely Democratic opponent next year in the race to succeed GOP incumbent governor Mike Huckabee will be Arkansas attorney general Mike Beebe, drew a parallel between the seriousness of the current scandal and that of the one which resulted in an impeachment trial for former President Bill Clinton in 1998. In that crisis, then-Representative Hutchison served as one of the Republican "managers" of the impeachment case when it went to the U.S. Senate, where President Clinton was acquitted.

"There's a consistency there," he said.

The former congressman downplayed the significance of his impeachment role in next year's election, however. "It was a very difficult time for our country, and my role was simply to help my country through that very challenging time. I think history's going to continue to look at it, but I think that both sides were operating under a conviction that represented a strong difference in viewpoints in their approach to the Constitution."

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