Friday, February 25, 2005

Name That Song

Can any of you young, hipster types out there tell me the name of the song and the artist in the Apple iPod Shuffle commercial? The one with the green background and the black silhouettes of people dancing? The song's lyrics start something like, "Wind me up, put me down, start me up and let me go." The music is Farfisa-driven Sixties-garage pop. Terribly sublime, like the Nuggets-era psychedelic bands or maybe old Green on Red. Me want more!
Service Interruption

Sorry for the lapse in blogging this week. Longtime readers know it's a regular feature of Half-Bakered. I suffer occasional bouts of depression and lack of self-confidence. The big Tennessee Senate race post wiped me out; I got a bit over-involved in some discussion threads over at Blogcritics; I let some good bloggable things slide when I shouldn't have.

Unfortunately, I also suffered a severe financial shock this week. I'll have to spend a bit of time working to fix things. It's purely my fault -- extended unemployment, bad bookkeeping and evergreen laziness. But, if you've ever considered hitting the PayPal button to donate to Half-Bakered, now would be the time to do so. Please. You'd be surprised how little money I need to keep going (as I often joke, I have a five figure income but that first figure is a "1"), but rent must always be paid. As I was reminded this week.

Sorry to dump my personal problems on y'all. I don't normally do it here. (Have I every mentioned my romantic woes? You're welcome.) I'll have to work to get this back under control. Blogging may be sporadic and strange in the interim. I'm not going away, just having to divert more attention than usual to the eternal verities of money and shelter and food.

Thank you for your forebearance. Or help. Both. Whatever. Thanks.
Meeting Ed Bryant

I went to the Defenders of Freedom event Thursday night at which Senate Republican candidate Ed Bryant spoke. The Defenders are a non-partisan group dedicated to Conservative Constitutional principles. The whole event went off smoothly, so thanks to them.

It was pretty well attended for a forum so early in the campaign; an estimated 50 or so people were there. My thanks to AlphaPatriot for inviting me and nudging me out of the safe confines of Casa Dos Amigos. Fishkite was there as well and the three of us formed a kind of "blogger's corner" down front. You can read AlphaPatriot's account here, with pictures; Fishkite has an extensive write-up here.

Bryant looked pretty good. His voice was giving him trouble and had gone out the day before. But he spoke well and on a variety of subjects. He began with a veiled jab at candidates trying to "buy" the election, a remark clearly aimed at Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker. I admit to knowing little about Corker, but Bill Hobbs comes through with a brief summation he posted earlier in the day. I'll say more about Corker later.

Bryant spoke of his biggest domestic concern: the Federal Courts. He warned of "activist judges" legislating from the bench and judges who want the new Federal sentencing guidelines loosened. He spoke as well of the importance of making sure conservative judges were appointed to the Supreme Court. Bryant mentioned "three, maybe four" openings on the Supreme Court in Bush's second term, which was news to me as I'd only figured on two. No one I spoke with later could figure out who the fourth might be.

Bryant brought up his entry into the House with the famous "Class of '94," the Newt Gingrich-inspired, Contract With America-supporting cohort of Republicans who took the majority. He used this partly to emphasise the need for a sympathetic and consevative Senate and, it seemed to me, to remind the group of the '94 cachet of conservative revolution. Bryant only lightly touched on Christian concerns of prayer, the Pledge, and public displays of religion.

His other major concern was the War on Terror. He didn't go into any detail, but mostly echoed the sentiments of a strong America and continuing to face terrorists abroad. When asked afterward, he seemed to dodge the question of border security with Mexico, a related issue. Another questioner wanted to know how he'd approach the two known nuclear threats, Iran and Korea. In both cases, he clearly emphasised diplomacy and talks, mixed with trade sanctions. He was very specific that America could not get into a ground war in Iran because we didn't have sufficient military strength to do so. Bryant also mentioned China as a future economic threat, but didn't go into details there.

There were a few points of concern on my part. When talking of our military, he repeated the now-discredited story from the soldier who confronted Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld at an Iraq press conference with troops with a question about inadequate vehicle armor. The question, we later learned, was planted by a reporter, and the units in question had near 100% armor protection the next day anyway. I'm a bit troubled that he didn't have the facts on this and was using the false story. He needs to be clued in and drop it quick.

Some audience questions he seemed clearly unprepared for. Asked about trade agreements that reduce American sovereignty and shackle us to international norms that might conflict with American standards (remember the audience here), he was far too vague. Admittedly, the question was an odd one in the way it was phrased, but he didn't seem to have a command of facts at hand. He sounded lost.

He also evaded solid answers to our border problems with Mexico and the influx of illegal immigrants. He seemed to recognise the importance of Mexican workers to our economy, but also shied from taking clear stands one way or the other. Or so it seemed to me. I am growing tired of this glaring Republican inconsistency. Security is security and borders are borders. Don't guard the front doors and garage zealously only to leave the back screen doors wide open!

The biggest worry for libertarian me was his repeated use of the phrase "extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures." It was used in connection with changes to Senate filibuster rules on judicial nominations (He made a great point that if the Dems were in the position that the Republicans are now, they wouldn't hesitate a moment to change the rules to their benefit.) and the War on Terror. I have great trouble with exceptionalism like this. It sounded less like a call to unusual action carefully taken than a rationalisation of questionable tactics. I worry when someone sees a lot of "extraordinary" circumstances. It's an excuse; an easy action too lightly taken for conveniece sake.

Bryant also might have slipped a quick one past his audience. He talked about term limits a bit, sounding like he agreed they were a good idea, but he never actually said he'd set any on himself. It might have been sleight-of-hand, or just a mistake in making his point. Hard to call.

One good bit: he referred to former President Ronald Reagan's "shining city on a hill." The way he called up the image and used it sounded sincere; he conveyed it well.

This early in the season (only eighteen months to go!) he was more conversational and relaxed than rousing. He didn't seem to be testing out themes and ideas so much as bringing forward his past record and updating it. That's to be expected right now, I think. Overall, he cut a strong figure, undercut only by his voice problems, some evident tiredness, and his halting, vague answers on certain topics. Sharpening his presentation, getting a better handle on facts he should have at his command, and displaying that "fire in the belly" will help him sell himself better.

I got the chance to ask Mr. Bryant a question I think will be his biggest trouble. As I've noted here many times, the Bush White House has shown a disturbing tendency to back "moderate" Republicans with big names and ready fundraising profiles over more solid fiscal and social conservatives. Witness Riordan in California, Specter in Pennsylvania, Liddy Dole in North Carolina, etc. Bryant got whacked with this in 2002 when Lamar! Alexander got the nod over him and eventually won the primary and then the election.

I asked Bryant if he was aware of the problem and what he was doing to combat it. He said he was, and was working with contacts in the Senate Republican Committee to circumvent it this time. That's good to hear. Forewarned and forearmed is the way to enter the field of battle.

But in talking with some folks there, I learned a bit more about Corker. He's already amassed $2 million. Clearly, a lot of big money people are already lining up in his camp. A couple of folks felt that the "big money guys" around the state had decided to line up behind Corker, making Bryant's task an uphill one.

They felt that Corker has a pretty good lock on East Tennessee and would make sufficient inroads into our neck of the woods. Apparently, one local developer is hosting a fundraiser for Corker soon. Corker's getting a majority of the Knoxville-Chattanooga axis and only a significant number here (I heard 20%.) would be enough to keep the other two candidates (Hilleary and Bryant) from getting the votes to beat him. It's depressing math, and sounds too plausible.

The sense I got was that the "fix is in" for Corker, regardless of the actual campaign and primary process. And that two consecutive primary losses for Bryant would likely doom him politically.

Then there's the other main candidate, Van Hilleary. As Matt White at South End Grounds has noted:
If he [Hilleary], Ed Bryant and Beth Harwell are in the race, Tennessee will have to get used to three very frightening words, "Senator Bob Corker."
Hilleary and Bryant splitting the conservative base does open a swath for Corker to capture. One hopes that Hilleary will bow out to sharpen up the race between Bryant and Corker, but I'm not holding my breath.

One person I spoke with actually floated the idea of Bryant bowing out to take a run for the Governor's office in 2006! That would make for an interesting race, most definitely, but we're still left with Senator Corker (as I don't think Hilleary is ultimately a good or strong candidate). If the idea by the Rove White House team is to use "soft" Republicans to pave the way for more ideological conservatives later, I really hate to see the current generation of conservatives like Bryant pay the cost.

Anyway, I had a great time. I got my picture taken with Mr. Bryant and will post it when I get a copy. He tried to put his arm around me for the pose and couldn't because I'm just too danged big! We laughed about it. I got to see Mr. Bryant up close and liked what I met. I'd very much like to see him win. (Unless, of course, the Tennessee Libertarian Party finds a suitable candidate, and then principle wins out.) If the depressing news about Corker proves true, I hope a strategy can be devised to counter it. We'll see.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Where's Willie?

Why didn't Mayor Herenton announce the city's largest-ever layoff of employees himself Friday? Why was he not anywhere to be found? All weekend, I watched the news for some report on his whereabouts, but to no avail. Where's the Mayor? Darrell Phillips offered one tantalising possibility.

If it turns out that our Mayor was indeed somewhere on personal or private business, especially if he was having fun, he can pretty much kiss his political career goodbye. Remember the fallout when it turned out he skipped town during the aftermath of Hurricane Elvis to attend a Little Rock campaign fundraiser? The recall movement will kick into overdrive. A lot of folks are very angry and upset at the layoffs; they will likely be amenable to giving him some payback.

Is this the last nail in King Willie's coffin?

MONDAY 10PM UPDATE Hold the hammers. Darrell has a follow-up post saying the Mayor's spokeswoman says it's not true. Ah well....

Also, in their 6PM broadcast WREG/3 had a Mike Matthews interview with Mayor Herenton where he says he was in his office last Friday during the announcement. No link on the WREG site, though.

I found the story a bit strange, though, as Matthews repeatedly said "was in his office at 4PM." It was a very specific phrase repeated. Not "he was in town" or something. They need to get the story online.

I like the way the Mayor seems to be playing the media, too. An "exclusive" to Mike Matthews? One on one? Hasn't that been his usual method when he's doing damage control?

I noticed as well that Herenton is now claiming not to have had direct control of the list of cuts. He's claiming he'll "veto" cuts to senior services. Don't you like how he's trying to distance himself from his own proposal? He feels your pain, Memphis.

It's sad you have to parse Herenton's words, but since he's admitted he'll lie to the press if he needs to -- and boy, is this a time he would need to -- you have to be careful. If I have the phrase right, it doesn't disallow the Mayor being out at the airport by 5:30PM for a flight. It's misleading, but not a technical lie. Heck, being "in town this weekend" wouldn't be a lie if he flew back into town on Saturday early afternoon. Most of Saturday and all day Sunday is still the "weekend," right?

Details, folks, we need details!
The Tennessee Senate 2006 Race

[It's a Hobbslide! Welcome Bill Hobbs readers. You might also enjoy this look at Ford's recent image makeover.]

It's an unfortunate fact of the race to fill the Tennessee Senate seat for retiring Bill Frist that Tennesseans will be deluged, smothered, with stories about Representative Harold Ford, Jr. He has nearly no chance of winning, barring a surprise screw-up which, with Tennessee Republicans, should never be discounted. After all, even with a majority in the State Senate they still couldn't elect one of their own as Lt. Governor. But Ford has two facts on his side. He has a national presence and reputation, which (like Frist) makes him the subject of lots of "hometown boy makes good" stories. And, he's a Democrat. The state's newspapers are still filled with unbending Democratic editorialists and reporters who view Ford as their next great hope in stemming Tennessee's still-rising Republican tide. It matters not at all how the Republicans conduct their campaign, nor how magnetic their final candidate is (ha!), Ford will dominate the coverage. It doesn't matter how far ahead his opponent is, and he will be every step of the way; Ford will dominate. It doesn't matter who wins, Ford will get sympathetic post-election coverage that will focus on his "gracious in defeat" manner or his "surprising" showing. These are the facts in Tennessee. Democrats who do well nationally get nearly sycophantic press coverage; successful Republicans are deferred to and respected but do not receive the same style of treatment.

For those without much time, or interest at this point, you can read this brief roundup of the landscape from the Memphis Commercial Appeal. (Registration required.)

But Harold Ford, Jr. will lose. So let's get him out of the way. Harold Ford is the presumptive nominee on the Democratic side. He has the national reputation and a career in the House that give him that all-important edge over any State-level competitor. He's a rising star among the national Democratic leadership, and a would-be heir both to the star power of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Committee's fading legacy.

He's one of a coming breed of post-Civil Rights Era black politicians. He is a black candidate acceptable, and even attractive, to a lot of whites; able to speak the bland pieties of politics without recourse to black cadences like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Ford can "be black" without having to play the race card. He doesn't automatically cause white liberal guilt meters to twitch with his merest utterances.

On the state level, however, he is still a Ford. Their behavior has filled newspaper pages and television screens for decades. His uncle John, the legendary State Senator who lives his life like an armed and dangerous 19th Century Mormon, and his father Harold, Sr. who after financial scandals bequeathed his seat to his son in a dynastic display worthy of a Kennedy, have created lasting memories on Tennesseans. Add to that the less-well known Memphis City Council Fords and other local relatives, and you have an extended family whose whiff is deeply unpleasant to many Tennesseans; even some Democrats will curl their lip at the mention of the Ford name. Whatever national cachet he possesses will always lose some of its potency inside the state because of that. Nationally, the press seems little interested in the connections, but in the heat of a high-profile, do-or-die (for Democrats) Senate race that may change.

That's partly why the Republicans are making so much hay of Senator John Ford's latest shenanigans with regards to his multiple-partner, multi-home, settling child support in court, family life. It has nothing to do with Harold, but it makes the Fords look sleazy. Republicans hope some of that slime will spatter Harold. In morality-conscious Tennessee, that will cost votes. The more-legitimate questions of John's residency (which I predict the State Senate will ignore, as it affects too many other politicians) and the questionable ethics of his financial connections to TennCare and Children's Services (which the Feds may have to pursue) will serve to keep the Ford name in the press much longer as investigations are called for, deflected, debated, started and dragged out.

There's also the fact that Ford's state power base derives almost entirely from two places: Shelby County, specifically Memphis, where he's unassailable, and in the capital in Nashville, where it's mostly admiration for his political skills. There are still some thin areas in the counties in between where he can count on votes, but Middle and East Tennessee are solidly Republican. Were his home district not equally solidly black and Democratic, he'd have to devote more energy to shoring up that base, making him a far less viable contender. On the flip side, his ability to make inroads is severely cramped.

So we have State Senator Rosalind Kurita throwing in her name against Ford in the Democratic primary. Her advantage is that she's not a Ford. She's also well-regarded elsewhere in the state. Her problem is the opposite of Ford's: she will make almost no ground in Shelby County and without that she can't come close to winning her party's nomination. Just on raw numbers, she has no chance.

Ford also has another problem: a significant part of his power is his national reputation, on which he has become dependent. With the national party in severe flux following a decade of losing election cycles, he finds himself having to defend his Clinton/DLC tactics against a leadership falling under the sway of the Howard Dean / / antiwar, anti-America Left. Moderates and centrists are being thinned out, made to toe the line, in order to draw sharper distinctions against Republicans. Ford's co-optation instincts are frowned upon.

The Ford campaign began, for the state press and for all practical purposes, with this article, adulatory but honest, from the alt-weekly Nashville Scene, back in March of 2004! Looking back from the Demcrats' post-2004 turmoil and struggle, it's eerily prescient to read this:
Sounds like a pretty good formula, but this kind of thing doesn't sit well with people like Nikki Courtney, popular morning show personality on WMAK 96.3-FM. During a Q-and-A session following a recent Ford appearance, Courtney shouts into a microphone while apologizing to the 200 or so "Music Row Democrats" gathered at the Belcourt Theatre to hear Ford speak. She takes him to task for telling the audience to stop acting angry.

"I am angry!" she bellows. "I am pissed off! I want to say that I'm angry!" Some applause follows, and Courtney continues.

Throughout, Ford listens patiently, waits a beat after she's finished, nods in acknowledgment and then pretty much repeats what he had just said.

"Forget 'angry,' " he concludes. "The word we need to focus on is 'winning.'"

Mild grumbling in the peanut gallery begins to grow. This crowd wants some red meat, and Ford, irritatingly, refuses to provide it. There is mild doubt on the faces of some of the diehards as Ford continues to say things they don't necessarily want to hear. The question is written on their perplexed faces: We like this guy, but is he really one of us?
The answer today is no. Ford is a student of Clinton and Bush, admitting it willingly, who each won with similar tactics of wide appeal and issue poaching and personal charisma. His desire to stay near the middle puts him at odds with the still left-moving national party, who are starting to flex muscle against DLC legacists such as himself.

Abramson was far ahead of his time in this article. He makes points and illustrates Ford in ways that resonate almost two years later. It is must reading still. He also nails Ford's problems.

Democrats are coming at Ford now, trying to rope the wayward stallion back into the corral. Take The Black Commentator for instance. They write:
The Black body politic has been invaded by corporate money, which seeks through its media arms to select a new Black leadership from among a small group of compliant and corrupt Democrats. Memphis Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. is a principal vector of the disease, an eager acolyte of the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), and now the point man among Black Democrats in the Republican mission to destroy Social Security.

Ford should also be known as the Black Man Who Dances With Blue Dogs one of only two Black congressional members of the Blue Dog Democratic Coalition (the other Black and Blue Dog is Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop). C-span congressional scholar Ilona Nickles aptly describes the Blue Dogs as "closer in purpose to a former coalition of southern Members of the House known as the ‘Boll Weevils,’ whose heyday was in the early 1980's. These Members defected as a group from the Democratic party to vote with Congressional Republicans on budgetary and tax bills."
The early 80's, you are reminded, is the period when the Republicans' began their national rebirth. Ford is a student of winners, regardless of party, which is a source of trouble with his party mates, who increasingly are only looking to a narrower and narrower part of themselves.

Another recent and unmistakable example comes from another alt-weekly, the Memphis Flyer. Ford has been making sympathetic, but deliberately vague, noises about Social Security reform for years. Even Abramson mentions it. It's of a piece with Ford's ASPIRE program and its ideals of an "ownership society." He's been unclear intentionally. He needs to sound just reformist enough to appeal to Republicans who might support Bush's prosecution of the War on Terror, but dislike his flaccid domestic agenda. So, he can't be clear that he'll need tax increases to do his reforms, which is why he is happy if pundits and commentators inaccurately ally him with the President's plans. On the other side, he has to reassure Democrats that whatever reforms he supports, they won't be unpalatable. Study what he's proposing and you'll see the same old "more government, more money, more outreach" Democratic approach. Ford hoped no is paying close enough attention either way to call his bluff.

He was wrong. Lots of the new leadership in the party has been and felt the need to get Ford to clear things up. Jackson Baker, the Flyer's political columnist and a Democratic sympathiser in the general sense of wanting to see the party returned to power and dominance, took up the cudgel. Baker's purpose is multi-fold, I believe. First, he reads the changing winds, the continuing leftward drift, and is tagging along. Second, I believe he's always hoped that covering Ford, the rising national star, would get him noticed nationally as well. Maybe gain him some credibility as a "long time chronicler" of the Ford arc, or at least earn him some insider status when Ford becomes a Senator or Presidential candidate one day. Additionally, Baker has really gotten into blogs recently and may be angling for some respect from that quarter.

Baker undertook, in this article, to fix the Ford "problem" vis-a-vis Social Security. It's very well written, lays out the situation clearly, and forcibly pins Ford to a clear plan. It also destroyed all Ford's careful work. As Baker noted, one national Democratic opinion leader, Josh Marshall, thought enough of the article to use it as the basis of changing his opinion of Ford. And now Ford is divorced from perceived Bush sympathies, a potential vote getter, and nailed to a traditional "tax and spend" Democratic plan. He's also firmly associated with Democratic obstructionism and their inexplicable view that there is no problem with Social Security, a view diametrically opposed to his. While the folks at the Flyer are as pleased as can be with their accomplishment, Ford is reportedly quite upset. Small wonder, with friends like these "helping" him out. Having achieved this victory, Baker promises to keep up his shepharding of the wayward Congressman.

This incident gives Tennessee Republicans something they are likely to use against him. They can plausibly argue that Ford is nothing like Clinton or Bush, as he tries to portray himself. He's no longer a party-leading moderate, but a minion of the Left. They can also definitively show that if the Democratic leadership pushes hard enough, Ford will bend to them against the wishes of his potential constituents. His independence and flexibility have been destroyed. In a state like Tennessee, with a strong-minority Democratic party requiring outreach to Republican voters for Democratic success, he's been knee-capped politically. But hey, at least he's ideologically pure now. More tactics like this will end his Senate chances utterly.

Next we turn to the Republican side, which is already, 18 months out, getting crowded. One major possible candidate, US Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, has declined a run. Her House seat is reasonably secure and she enjoys a sterling reputation. She also has iron-clad Republican credentials thanks to her efforts to stop a Tennessee income tax several years ago. It was she who passed the word to a Nashville radio-show host that a tax vote was about to be snuck through the Tennessee General Assembly. The resulting protests formed within minutes and lasted for months, a staggering show of sustained resistance that killed an income tax for many years (altering state-level politics with it), ended a lot of political careers, and earned her the enmity of newspaper editors across the state. I suspect this ready-made target (the press to this day still refer to the daily throngs of protesters as "horn-honking" yahoos), along with a thriving House career, affected her decision not to run.

The reason the Republican primary field is so crowded is a bit of "inside baseball." Bill Frist's voluntary stepping down, after a promised two terms, is almost unprecedented. Senate seats rarely come open. The men and women who gain them generally have a virtual lifetime cinesure. Incumbents are rarely beaten. It takes disease or death, major scandal, or the rare generational political re-alignment to unseat a Senator. Even then, there is usually an "heir apparent" already in line waiting election. Frist has avoided this. An open seat such as we face is just too tempting not to take a run at. The odds may be long, but the rewards make it entirely worthwhile.

There are presently three major players in the field.

Undeclared but a likely entrant is the former candidate for Tennessee governor, Van Hilleary. Hilleary is generally well-like and well-respected, and has lots of support state-wide, in part because of the publicity of the 2002 gubernatiorial race. That race, and its decisive win for Democrat Phil Bredesen, may come back to haunt him. Already a Republican with good credentials, he managed to lose to a Democrat who -- in Alabama Governor George Wallace's famous phrase -- "out-segged" him.

Hilleary somehow found his Republican strength unseated and outflanked by a Democrat who outdid him on solid Republican issues and put him on the defensive. Republicans were divided by their governor, Don Sundquist, who in his second term suddenly turned his back on Republican principles. He spent wildly and backed a decidedly unpopular State income tax. Bredesen successfully fought his Democratic baggage: attachment to a party that had just fought a vicious battle to pass a State income tax and a perception that he would "back door" that tax if elected. Bredesen, as a Democrat, was widely expected by everyone -- Republican and Democrat -- to continue the budget-busting spending of his Republican predecessor, but he steadily stated he would reduce spending and not propose new programs. He was repeatedly hammered with this expectation and never bowed. Hilleary was flummoxed and never gained an offensive. He came off as oddly weak, lacking in leadership, always playing catch-up to Bredesen. Hilleary lost soundly to a Democrat in a race widely tipped to be the Republicans' to lose, leaving him tainted. Facing another underdog Democrat in the Senate race may be a little too uncomfortably close to a history repeat possibility for many. At the least, he'll lose energy, money and time combatting this perception.

Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker has been running for quite a while already. He's already got a reported $2 million in the bank, with fund-raising season still to come. But, as Nashville blogger and conservative Republican pundit Bill Hobbs notes:
[Corker is] a moderate Republican allied with the
state's previous big-spending/pro-income tax governor and also cozy with Democrats....
I have to admit that I know next to nothing about Corker. That, in itself, spells trouble for him, as Shelby County / West Tennessee must be a part of a winning state-wide formula in any primary run. Once the race gets underway, expect to see him spend a lot of early time over in the Western Grand Division.

[Note to non-Tennessee readers: This long, narrow state is traditionally parsed into three "grand divisions" largely due to geography's effect on 19th century politics and agriculture / manufacturing. The Tennessee River provides the natural boundaries: its eastern flow to the south separates the Eastern and Middle Divisions and on its return northward flow after passing through Alabama it divides the Middle and Western Grand Divisions. Memphis is the "capital" of the West, where the focus was Mississippi River trade and small farming, and the land is very flat and loamy. Nashville is the "capital" of the Middle (sometimes Central), with horses and politics, and elevated rocky soil atop the Cumberland Plateau. Knoxville rules the insular East, with mining, and its Appalachian geography. These Divisions are still politically and culturally distinctive to this day. There are still meaningful animosities and competitions, too.]

The last major candidate, and the one I think is currently in the best position, is former four-term Congressman Ed Bryant. (Campaign website already here.) Bryant has previously made a run at the other Tennessee Senate seat, the one currently occupied by former governor and Republican Lamar Alexander. There are important lessons and cautions to note here.

Bryant is the only social conservative in the race so far. His stances on a wide array of issues habr strong appeal to fundamentalist and evangelical Christian conservatives. He can be counted on to use this appeal in the next Senate race.

But in 2002, when Alexander opposed him, the Bush White House (read: Karl Rove) refused to endorse Bryant, even though he was widely viewed as a stronger candidate, and backed the far past his prime Alexander instead. (He had been reduced to a sideshow perennial Presidential campaign that was noted more for sad laughs than serious consideration.) Alexander has also sometimes been derided for his moderate/RINO (Republican in Name Only) tendencies. The choice stung Bryant.

In that race, and other elections cycles during his first term, Bush and his advisors have shown a consistent tendency to prefer "marquee" Republicans -- former office holders or candidates with proven name appeal -- over more strongly credentialed social conservatives. Riordan over Simon in California; Liddy Dole, Arlen Specter, Lamar Alexander, etc. Even if the "marquee" Republicans carry RINO labels and visible liberal positions, the Bush White House has gone to them over popular and desirable social, Christian, and fiscal conservatives.

In Tennessee's 2006 Senate race, they are the other shoe waiting to be dropped. It's still an open question whether the White House will involve itself as strongly as it has to date in Senate and House races. Rove has announced that his days of Presidential campaigning are over, but he's also believed to be committed to a plan to ensure a Republican dominance of national politics to rival their previous early 20th century reign, and the mid-century Democratic one. Keeping Tennessee red is vital to that plan.

Where does that leave Bryant? Hanging in limbo, unfortunately. At present, I can't think of another "marquee" Tennessee Republican who can be called on. Will the Bush White House accept a social conservative if he's the winning candidate? Or will they move to back a lesser-known (and so more expensive to campaign) moderate like Corker? It's the open question that will be decisive in shaping the Republican primary campaign season.

Hilleary and Bryant are both already touting polls showing them leading the field. Obviously, at this early date the polls are totally without merit except as tools for media marketing and newspaper stories. Most Tennesseans have no idea there's already a contest going on!

As the race begins to take shape later this year and really heat up, there are many places to get information. From the traditional newsprint sources you can expect the standard, familiar, Democrat-leaning analysis and reporting. Here's the big-city rundown:
In Memphis: the daily Commercial Appeal and the alt-weekly Memphis Flyer.
In Nashville: the daily Tennessean and the alt-weekly Nashville Scene.
In Knoxville: the daily News-Sentinel.

Online, there are the following conservative and/or Republican blogs:
Hobbs Online (Tennessee's #1 right-side blogger and conservative Republican.)
South End Grounds (Former Republican operative in Nashville.)
Half-Bakered (Memphis conservative Libertarian.)
Frank Cagle (Long-time commentator and analyst.)
Fishkite (Christian conservative supporter of Ed Bryant.)
Right Minded (Lebanon, TN, Democrat reporter and columnist.)
Adam Groves (UT graduate and Republican political operative.)

...and their liberal and/or Democratic counterparts:
South Knox Bubba (Tennessee's #1 left-side blogger and "progressive" Democrat.)
LeanLeft (Memphis Democrats.)
No Silence Here (Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter and blogger.)
Democratic Talk Radio (Tennessee-based, partisan Democratic weekly talk radio show and website.)

This bloglist is by no means complete. As the election approaches more will join in. Most folks aren't paying attention yet. But at the present time, these are the ones who are or shortly will be shaping the discussion. You can go to the Rocky Top Brigade webpage for a more complete list of Tennessee bloggers.

The race will ultimately be hot and vigorous. It will have a defining effect on the career of Harold Ford, Jr. It may even become a bellwether for Democratic chances of recovery under Howard Dean's leadership and Republican plans for the post-Bush future. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Wyatt Bunker Joke

From the Half-Baked Wire Service:
Shelby County School Board member Wyatt Bunker has said he will propose to the Shelby County Commission that they pass a law assessing fines for people who break the Laws of Gravity, Motion and Supply & Demand. When told they were unbreakable he replied, "Not with the Devil and John Ford stalking our county."
I Was Wrong!

The other day I mentioned that no television station had done a story on blogs yet. Surfing for something else, I found this uncredited story, dated February 16, on WMC. I'll save you the click by reprinting it in its entirety:
A powerful and growing force is changing the face of American politics. And those with blog power are flexing their muscles. Internet bloggers fueled the fire in 2002 when Senator Trent Lott praised Strom Thurmond and Thurmond's segregationist past. The scandal cost Lott his position as Majority Leader. More recently bloggers contributed to the downfall of James Guckert, also known as Jeff Gannon. Guckert came under blogger scrutiny when he asked President Bush a question that belittled Senate Democrats. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Guckert didn't have a regular White House press pass, but was cleared on a day-by-day basis. Guckert has since quit.
So, technically, I guess WMC can say they have reported on blogs, but the folks at WMC really should know better.