Thursday, October 10, 2002

The Crone Speaks

Susan Adler Thorp isn't quite in the Internet Age yet. She still thinks that she can blithely write whatever she needs to and trust that the reader's memory of her previous utterances is cloudy at best, or nonexistant. Too bad for her, both the Internet Age and the Blogging Age have arrived.

In her most recent column, SAT goes through some amazing contortions while writing about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen. Let's take a tour:
The fight for the governor's mansion was supposed to be
easy for Democrat Phil Bredesen.
Says who? Has she been paying attention the past few years? The Gore loss to Bush, the Income Tax Wars, the sudden flight or defeat by Democrats at the State and County levels? Only in her mind was it easy, I guess.
He entered the race last year with widespread name
recognition, particularly in Middle Tennessee where, as
Nashville's mayor, he earned the reputation of a talented
chief executive who knows a lot about management and
health care.

He is credited with being a skilled deal maker who lured
professional football to Nashville. He put together incentive packages to
attract computer maker Dell and to keep Columbia HCA from leaving.
That's one interpretation. Others see a man who raised taxes many times and sold Nashville's financial future to a lot of iffy promises. And how did being Nashville's mayor earn him a reputation for health care knowledgeability?
Bredesen also is armed with his own fortune, much of which he earned
by buying troubled health maintenance organizations and making them
profitable. Even White House political director Ken Mehlman let it slip in
June that he believed Bredesen had a strong chance of winning the
governor's race in Tennessee.
What does that last mean? Nothing, although she parlays it like it's a shocking admission. I also have to wonder how SAT would have characterized a Republican who had his business experience? "Corporate HMO raider" maybe?
Yet that's not what the polls say. While Bredesen's internal polls show
him seven points ahead of Hilleary, Hilleary's polls show him a point
ahead of Bredesen, less than a month before the election.

A statewide poll conducted in mid-September showed Bredesen leading
with 37 percent of the vote to Hilleary's 29 percent. Two weeks later,
another poll showed the candidates in a dead heat, with 44 percent of
the vote going to Bredesen and 42 percent for Hilleary. Both polls had a
4 percent margin of error

How did Bredesen slip so quickly?
We've been through this before, here. The first poll was of all Tennesseans and allowed for "undecided." The second poll was only of registered, likely voters and did not offer the "undecided" option. So, naturally, it produced different numbers. Only an idiot, or someone with an agenda, would fail to take note of that.
If a Republican candidate in a statewide race is behind in the polls as
Election Day nears, the spread between the Democrat and Republican
almost always will narrow in favor of the Republican, because
Tennessee is a Republican state.
Say, wait a minute! Didn't she just say, in her first paragraph, that Bredesen was supposed to have it easy? Why is she now saying something slightly different here? And, for that matter, is this why Bredesen so little invokes the name and heritage of the Democratic Party? Is there a problem there, perhaps?
Hilleary also is on the popular side of this year's hot election issue:
taxes. If polls are correct, that's the issue most voters care about this
I'll bet she had to go take a moment when she wrote that, even if she does use weasel-words like "popular" and "care."
Hilleary has done an effective job of communicating his anti-tax
message. There is no other issue he talks about as often and with as
much clarity. Even while explaining his position on the death penalty
during a televised debate in Memphis this week, Hilleary worked his
position against taxes into his answer. He has effectively latched onto
the issue and claimed it as his own.
And it's working too, because it's put Bredesen on the defensive end of the issue. And Bredesen is reduced to pretending he's not a Democrat, with all that entails, in the process.
Bredesen also campaigns against a broad-based income tax, but it's an
issue a Democrat simply can't win with, particularly when his Republican
opponent reminds voters that he pushed to raise property taxes three
times as mayor of Nashville. Like Hilleary, Bredesen doesn't believe an
income tax would solve the state's budget problems. But when he
responds to Hilleary's charges that he quietly favors an income tax,
Bredesen finds himself again talking about the one issue that won't get
him votes.
Yup. This is so spot-on, I can't believe SAT wrote it! But even so, Bredesen's purported opposition is swamped in a sea of words that leave him all over the map. A place, I'm sure, he wants to be when the financial hammer comes down and he has to renege.
Bredesen is an intelligent and articulate man, but unlike Hilleary he has
failed to communicate his message: He has the ability to manage the
state and his record as mayor proves he can attract new business to
Tennessee and broaden the state's economic base.
Again, this is true, and very important stuff. So why can't he gain traction on that? Why does it not seem to matter?
Bredesen's analyses of what the state needs to return to a sound
financial footing don't resonate with voters as well as the one-sentence
quip against taxes that Hilleary can deliver.
What "analyses?" He's not offering anything real either. Notice, now, how SAT has set us up to see Bredesen as the better man, and how all Hilleary offers is "quips?"
Bredesen's advertising people erred when they failed last summer to
define Hilleary as a candidate who is not qualified to run the state.
Instead they let Hilleary define himself.
Gee, when it was George Flinn running for County Mayor, she couldn't find enough awful, snide things to say about his "handlers" as she called them. Now it's a neutral topic?
Through Hilleary's TV ad efforts, voters have learned he served as a
navigator in the Persian Gulf War, grew up in rural East Tennessee and
is a congressman. Many voters still don't know about Bredesen's
personal business successes and his triumphs as a mayor.
Gee, that's not what she said up above, talking about Bredesen's fine reputation as mayor of Nashville. Can't have it both ways, Susie dear.
Another reason this race is a dead heat: Hilleary appears to be running
stronger in rural areas than Bredesen. That's largely the result of
Hilleary's strong stand against a state income tax and his ability to
connect with rural voters.

Bredesen grew up in New York state and graduated from Harvard.
Those aren't the kind of credentials rural Tennesseans tend to embrace.
Again, I'm surprised at her delicacy in stating this. Normally, she'd be sarcastic and condescending to the hicks. She must be trying not to alienate them. Wonder why?
Hilleary's campaign has done a clever job of connecting Bredesen with
Gov. Don Sundquist, who broke his no-new-taxes campaign promise,
implying Bredesen will do the same. Country folks frown on big-city
folks who break their word and Hilleary knows that.
Oh, OK. There's some of the condescension.

A quick aside: I'm really amazed that SAT flatly calls says Sundquist "broke his...promise." She usually has far more heroic words for him that that. Maybe she's trying to keep Republican promise-breaker Sundquist tied to Republican candidate Hilleary?
Can Bredesen still win?

Yes. But he must rely heavily on advertising - an expensive way to
bring undecided voters into his camp. And he must make sure that the
Republican business leaders who defected to Bredesen's side early in
the campaign remain with him through Election Day.
Erk! As Bill Hobbs scathingly pointed out months ago, those "Republican business leaders" were nearly all cronies of Bredesen to begin with, or folks who directly benefitted from his deals, or RINOs. They don't seem to have mattered at all since.

And Bredesen is going all out with the advertising now, in a series of very negative, sharp ads. But has SAT bothered to lambast him for "going negative," something she made a crusade of against George Flinn? Of course not. It's the other side now.
Bredesen has the money to do that and fund a get-out-the-vote effort.
He's prepared to use his wealth to win the race - a resource Hilleary
doesn't have.

Hilleary has been attacking Bredesen on this issue, but rich politicians
use their money to fund their campaigns all the time. Sometimes it
works and sometimes it doesn't.
And sometimes she takes them to task for it and sometimes she doesn't. Depends on the party. Ask Flinn.
Remember George Flinn?
Ahhh, her most recent, crowning achievement. The one-woman demolition job she did in a series of five editorials. She went after him like a mad dog, barking and howling and biting. Now that Bredesen's campaign has many of the elements that she criticezed Flinn for having, can we expect to see Susie dear attack him? Based on this column, I ain't holding my breath.

Besides, Thorp's track record of advice isn't that good. And she didn't advise Flinn, but tore him down. Viciously and in the most appalling abuse of position I think I've seen in a newspaper. But that's out Susie, shameless to the end.

Bredesen is running against his own party and the image they have. That's why he avoids national Democrats and doesn't self-identify as one. He's got a natural disadvantage built right in that Hilleary doesn't. Hilleary's Republican and damned proud, Sunquist excepted. There's no way Bredesen can deny his heritage and win; but there's also no way Bredesen can embrace his heritage and win either. Now that he's gone ugly-negative with his ads, the subliminal perception is that Hilleary is the leader. As long as Van can keep from making some blunder, he's in the catbird seat until November 5.

Until next time.

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