Bredesen and Dean Hoping to Ride the Wave 

With six weeks to go before the November 6th election, the question on most minds — certainly on the minds of Democrats — is whether the blue wave that was so evident locally on August 2nd exists in enough strength statewide to affect the outcome of the races for governor and senator.

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and former Governor Phil Bredesen, the Democratic candidates for governor and senator respectively, certainly hope so. And so far their efforts to swell that wave have made them more evident in the Memphis area than their Republican opponents, Franklin businessman Bill Lee, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, and 7th District Congressman Marsha Blackburn, the party's candidate for senator.

click to enlarge Karl Dean speaks at the - fund-raiser in a Memphis home. - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Karl Dean speaks at the fund-raiser in a Memphis home.

When Blackburn opted out of an invitation for a senatorial debate at Rhodes College last Thursday, Bredesen turned up anyhow, converting the aborted showdown with his opponent into a "'Memphis Matters' Ideas Forum" before a nearly full house in Rhodes' McNeil Concert Hall.

A questioner in the audience suggested that, if 80 percent of succeeding at something consisted of just showing up, the former two-term governor might get 80 percent of the votes from those who turned out. Bredesen upped the ante a bit, suggesting hopefully that he might get as much as 82 percent of the audience vote. Given the strongly partisan cast of the attendees, that didn't seem terribly far-fetched.

The more objective polls taken to date of the population at large have see-sawed, with Bredesen and Blackburn trading small leads back and forth.

Dean's situation is a bit more challenging. In his latest Memphis appearance, at a Monday afternoon fund-raiser at the Central Avenue home of Cynthia and Mark Grawemeyer, the Democratic nominee for governor noted the progession from a Fox News poll showing him 20 points behind Lee to a "newer and bigger and more accurate" poll by CNN cutting the gap to a mere nine percentage points.

"Nine points is fantastic!" said Dean, who told his sizeable crowd of well-wishers that he'd expected to come out of the primary-election period something like 12 points down, with the opportunity to chip away at his GOP opponent's lead on the strength of vigorous campaigning and persuasive issues like the state's need for Medicaid expansion, which he favors and Lee does not.

Dean described other "clear differences" with Lee: "He's for arming teachers. I'm for security officers. I'm for the Second Amendment but want some sensible background checks. He's for permitless carry, not a good thing."

Decrying the local poverty rate of "46 or 47 percent" as "simply not tolerable," Dean promised help in what he described as Memphis' "existential battle" with the neighboring states of Mississippi and Arkansas in the competition for economic growth. "It's time to win some of those battles," he said.

There's no doubting that Memphis will figure large in Dean's own battle with Lee, who narrowly lost Shelby County to Diane Black in the GOP primary but had made considerable gains here late in that campaign, as he did elsewhere in the state — mainly, it would seem, on the basis of a compelling personality. But Dean professes confidence. "If we vote, we win," he said Monday, predicting, "There's going to be a blue wave of some sort."

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      On the surface, the GOP still rules in Tennessee, but the election showed evidence of Democratic revival.
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