July 26, 2006
To Bob or Not to Bob
Why you should—and shouldn’t—vote for each of the U.S. Senate candidates
The major political parties’ respective senatorial campaign committees -- you know, those powerful cadres of cash-wielding kingmakers -- are watching our little long, skinny state very closely. Indeed, many a paid pundit has named Tennessee as the deciding locale in the battle for control of Congress’ upper house. This should come as no surprise, for the Volunteer State has sent history-making sons (not so many daughters, yet) to the national government many times.
That noise you heard coming from the west on April 6 was the uproar of grassroots Democrats howling at their party’s Senate re-election gurus, led by Charles Schumer of New York, for the muscle flexed against a fiery State Senator from Clarksville named Rosalind Kurita. Remember her? The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee blatantly backed Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. and thus virtually ensured his nomination on August 3. Yes, there are a few other Democrats in this race, namely Gary Davis, John Jay Hooker, Charles E. Smith, and Al Strauss; but these epitomize the term “also-ran.” (Except Hooker; he’s classified as “always-ran.”) You can hardly blame the Democrats for engineering things so as to maximize their chance at taking back the Senate, but it sucks to be an earnest candidate on the losing end of that bargain.
On the Republican side, the national party has been a lot more careful. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, headed by Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, gives equal consideration to the three major candidates: Ed Bryant, Bob Corker, and Van Hilleary. (There’s no mention on the NRSC website of the other Republican candidate, Tate Harrison of Rhea County, though; and Jeff Moder withdrew after seeing little in the way of bigtime support.) Senate Majority Leader and future presidential candidate Bill Frist has also stayed neutral with regard to his potential successor. The fight has been on the ground and in the air—but here in the state, for the most part.
Here are some considerations voters should take with them as they fill out the primary ballots for the United States Senate:
As stated, there’s no way that Harold Ford, Jr. won’t win this nomination, but that fact should not signal Democrats to sit out the primary election. Campaign workers will likely use the vote count in each primary as a focusing tool for get-out-the-vote drives in the Fall. If you’re inclined to vote for Ford in the general election, do your part to make August’s numbers look like they will in November. The national party is counting on you to deliver Tennessee. As a centrist Democrat, Ford has made considerable strides in winning over voters all across the state. It’s just his home district that must be a little hurt and confused by this. Ford’s vote for the bankruptcy bill, seeing that Memphis has one of the highest bankruptcy rates in the nation, was a particularly insurmountable obstacle for progressives. You can bet they’ll come around, though, when the general election is nigh.
This primary has been fun to watch. Van Hilleary’s announcement of his entry was met with genuine disappointment by the Bryant camp; but, for the rest of us, it has made for a great show. Two candidates battling it out, á la Bryant and Alexander four years ago, can be an energized debate, but there’s a reason circuses have three rings. This trinity has not disappointed.
Ed Bryant has made no secret of his desire to join the Senate Judiciary Committee if elected. He did serve on the House Judiciary Committee, and is a former U.S. Attorney, so that seems to be a desire in part based on logic. Only vote for him if you want him to be one of those vetting future judicial nominees, though. Bryant is the most apparently consistent of the three candidates; the most “senatorial” (as subjective as you want to be with that); and the tallest. His two political claims to fame seem to be the prosecution of former Congressman Harold Ford, Sr. in the “Butcher Bank” scandal, and the infamous deposition of one Monica Lewinsky during the Clinton impeachment. Both of these prosecutions failed, by the way.
Bob Corker is a shrewd businessman. His disappointing “run to the Right” during this primary notwithstanding, he has still attracted a leading number of Tennessee voters to his candidacy. (Tennessee Republicans, red as this state is, are by and large more moderate than our Deep South counterparts.) Bob Corker is aiming directly at the general election, as witnessed by his “busting a cap” in the millionaire clause of current campaign finance restrictions. GOP insiders are already hand-wringingly looking for ways to mend fences after such a bitter primary. Get used to saying these three words: “Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.” Okay, five words.
Van Hilleary is a mystery. Described repeatedly as an “empty suit” or worse by his detractors, he evokes near-religious devotion from others. Perhaps a clue to his popularity can be found in the 4th Congressional district, as the voters who elected Lincoln “let’s make adultery a felony” Davis in 2002 and again in 2004 are the same who chose Hilleary in 1994. Here’s the thing, though: if you are a hardcore ideological conservative, consider that Bryant was in this race before Hilleary joined, and that the prediction made by more than a few has come true: having both of them in the race has effectively paved a nice path for the slightly more moderate candidate to stroll down.
[This article appears in the July 26, 2006 Pulse.]