Republicans can thank President Barack Obama for the party’s solid control of the Tennessee Legislature, starting with his appearance at the top of the national Democratic ticket in 2008 — after losing the state’s presidential primary even among Democratic voters — and continuing in more dramatic fashion in 2010.
The GOP has used advertising that linked many Democratic state legislators, even some who were staunch fiscal and social conservatives, to the evil national Democrats.
“You’d think Nancy Pelosi was my high school sweetheart and I played golf with Barack Obama every weekend,” grumbled state House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner recently.
The ads pictured Obama side by side with the designated target Democratic legislator. And it seems they were very effective, though you have to wonder if they were really even necessary, given the animosity most voting Tennesseans seemed to have toward Obama.
Consider, for example, Jim Summerville, who was rated by all pundits and professional politicians of both parties as a no-hope candidate in 2010. An obscure adjunct professor at Austin Peay State University, he was the only person to file against veteran Democratic Sen. Doug Jackson of Dickson.
Jackson was one of those guys who called himself “a conservative, pro-business Democrat.” He was sponsor of the so-called “guns in bars bill” that liberals hated, for example. He considered Summerville of no consequence, took a fishing trip to Alaska during the campaign season and left thousands of dollars unspent in his campaign account.
The state GOP agreed that Jackson was invulnerable. The state party and the legion of Republican-oriented PACs all ignored Summerville in the same fashion. He spent a total of about $1,900 — not a dime from any of the Republican monied interests — and won the election.
Summerville won because he was a Republican and most of the people who went to the polls in his Middle Tennessee district were mad about Obama and associated all Democrats with him. Despite the old saying, politics is not local these days. It’s national.
And Jackson had done nothing to counter that phenomenon. With the state GOP apparatus writing off Summerville as hopeless, Jackson likely could have changed things. But he didn’t, and today we have Sen. Summervile.
This year, the state Republican Party’s operatives apparently believe there’s enough anti-Obama energy remaining to be tapped for elimination of the few Democrats remaining in a handful of districts that could not be assured of GOP victory via redistricting. And they may be right.
It is fairly clear, at this early stage, that there will be no Summerville-like situations of ignoring possible winners. The GOP seems to be going after every Democrat in any district where there’s any chance and defending every seat where a Democrat has any chance of winning.
In the latter category, an illustration of the Republicans’ renewed reliance on Obama is a news release last week from the state GOP attacking Jim Hackworth, one of those 14 House Democrats unseated in the anti-Obama outrage of 2010. He’s having a rematch with the man who beat him, Republican Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge, who may epitomize the new and more conservative breed of GOP state legislator. The news release, in essence, announces that Hackworth has taken money from the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union PAC, which has also given money and an endorsement to the evil Obama.
Now, if you follow the logic of this premise, most Republicans in Tennessee would also be tainted. Virtually all take money from PACs for big corporations that, in turn, give to Obama. For example, AT&T executives, according to a Center for Responsive Politics blog post, favor Obama in presidential donations. AT&T in Tennessee gives to Republican legislators. So can those Republicans be tied to Obama?
Maybe that’s the wave of the future this fall.
There also appeared last week billboards attacking House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart sponsored by the NRA in her district. They picture Maggart and Obama. Beside her picture is the statement, “Rep. Debra Maggart says she supports your gun rights.” Beside Obama’s picture: “Of course, he says the same thing.”
Maybe that’s the wave of the future for 2014.