Sunday Column: Some Already Look Past the Elections

Excepting a handful of races for seats in the state Legislature, there’s really no mystery or excitement about the outcome of Tennessee elections this fall. Republicans, yawn, win.
This leaves the state’s political junkies to focus on a) that handful of legislative races; b) speculation about how really big the GOP glory/Democratic debacle will be, and c) all the Republican infighting that will ensue after the elections.
Briefly, on those three matters:
n The outlines of broad strategies of the Republican and Democratic parties seem to be emerging in August.
No surprise on the Republican front: All Democrats are the same as President Barack Obama, just as in the past couple of election years. An interesting possible twist was raised in a recent Republican release bashing state Sen. Eric Stewart as a candidate for Congress. He was berated for voting against the Tennessee Health Care Freedom Act, which basically says Tennesseans can defy federal law and ignore the requirement of insurance coverage in the Affordable Care Act. Ergo, the pitch goes, Stewart favors the dreaded Obamacare and is thus just like Obama.

Now, some Democrats in vulnerable seats saw that one coming and went along with the bill, one of them cynically advising at the time that the measure was a “meaningless political gesture” certain to pass and also certain to have no real policy impact other than perhaps a lawsuit to establish that the act is invalid. So it may have limited applicability. Still, it’s a clever strategy and may work in a couple of cases.
On the Democratic strategy front, the interesting twist may be to join the GOP in trying to make legislative races focus on national politics.
The state Democratic party is sending out statements attacking Republicans for their lockstep support of the Health Care Compact bill, which basically sets up the framework for a state takeover of Medicare and all other health care programs currently overseen by the federal government. If a Republican representative voted for the bill, the pitch goes, he or she voted for the Paul Ryan/Mitt Romney plan to destroy Medicare and adversely impact senior citizens.
This dovetails neatly with national Democratic efforts to help Obama in states where he has a chance, which will generate TV ads on national networks aired in Tennessee, where he doesn’t. It’s a clever strategy that could gain a few votes in those key and exceptional legislative places.
n Mark Clayton’s victory in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary marked an ignominious end to a piece of overall party strategy for this year’s elections: Have someone as an opponent to Republican Sen. Bob Corker’s re-election who could at least stir things up a bit and inspire the party’s remnant base, even though outspent and sure to lose. Instead, they have a candidate embarrassingly disavowed by the party for “hate group” membership and otherwise a complete turnoff to voters with a liberal bone or two in their bodies. And he’s an inspiration for Republican ridicule.
That won’t make much difference — certainly not in the Senate race outcome and probably not in down-the-ballot races. What does make a difference is redistricting to favor Republicans and the huge money advantage that Republicans enjoy.
The upshot is that Republicans are likely to reach a new Tennessee high-water mark in 2012, including two-thirds control of both the state House and Senate. But how high Republicans and how low the Democrats? That’s the modest mystery.
n While specifics of the election outcome are a matter of passing interest to Tennessee political junkies, the Republican infighting that will ensue is already the top topic.
Did you hear that Judd Matheny might challenge Beth Harwelll as House speaker? That Gov. Bill Haslam — or “Bill HIslam” as he is known on a website — was concerned enough about claims he’s promoting sharia law to have a deputy write the state Republican chairman to say, no, he’s not? And that the chairman was concerned enough to write all county Republican chairs — with copies to some media — defending the governor? That the NRA beat a member of GOP leadership?
The Republican establishment enters the coming combat in an extremely favorable position. But it’s a remarkable thing when the election aftermath is a bigger concern than the election itself.

Note: This column also appears in the News Sentinel, HERE.

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