Thursday, June 26, 2008

Obama's Impact in the Parallel Universe

The great Frank Cagle, East Tennessee politico extraordinaire, co-host of The Voice, former Van Hilleary gubernatorial campaign spokesman, resident conservative at the liberal MetroPulse, and without doubt the finest political analyst in the South-and perhaps the country-hit the nail on the head two weeks ago when it comes to the way that Barack Obama may impact Tennessee:

Hillary Clinton most likely would have carried Tennessee in November. Her husband did it twice; John McCain couldn’t do it in the primary. But Barack Obama? If Harold Ford Jr., a conservative-talking candidate from Tennessee, couldn’t win his Senate race campaigning here daily, then a liberal from Chicago who is unlikely to campaign here at all wouldn’t seem to be a good bet either.

Republican legislators have also been told by many of their rural, conservative Democratic colleagues that they themselves will be voting for McCain, rather than Obama, and many of their constituents will be doing so as well. If rural Democrats across the state are going to vote for McCain, might they also vote for the Republican legislative candidate as well?

Obama may do well in metro areas—where Ford also scored large numbers—but if he is unable to move the rural districts, then the seats down the ticket may be in play. These circumstances have some Republicans quietly thrilled at their prospects. Perhaps they are not just being hopeless optimists.

So maybe the Republicans CAN capture the House. Or, with a couple of seats, force a coalition.

For most of the week we've been hearing about the great national lead that Barack Obama is supposed to have. Although I suspect that lead is exaggerated and obviously does not account for State-by-State polling that shows the race much closer than the Los Angeles Times is prone to do, it is clear that Barack Obama is benefiting from the present economic situation in the national polls.

Tennessee politics, however, is a parallel universe where the exact reverse of the national trend or the normal trend tends to occur. In 1998, when Democrats did unusually well nationally considering the climate, Tennessee's Republican Governor was re-elected with 69% of the vote. When that very same Governor, Don Sundquist, attempted to push through a State income tax, most people in his own party condemned his action-and rather than be punished for being the party of Don Sundquist, Republicans gained several seats in the General Assembly as a reaction to the Sundquist tax proposal, and the resulting composition of the Legislature was seen as an anti-tax and anti-Sundquist election result.

The 2006 General Election was seen nationally as a bellwether election for Democrats, but no one told people in the Volunteer State In the parallel universe of Tennessee, a Republican-Bob Corker-who was virtually unknown outside of East Tennessee, and prior to announcing his candidacy was practically unknown (in non-political circles) outside of Chattanooga, defeated a Democrat in Harold Ford, Jr. from one of Tennessee's most well-known, powerful, and infamous political families. Unlike many of the other Fords, Harold Jr. was a popular, well-liked candidate who was even begrudgingly acknowledged to be tolerable by many Republicans (again, see Frank Cagle), and was probably the only Democrat who could mingle with attendees at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference and not be hissed away. Ford could not carry a single rural county in the State, and his suburban vote in the counties near Memphis turned out to be lighter than expected. At the end of the night, Bob Corker was the only freshman Republican Senator elected in 2006.

While other parts of the country may be going gaga over Barack Obama, John McCain holds a very substantial lead here, and Obama is so unpopular in some quarters that many Democrats have quietly mentioned to me that they simply won't be voting for him. Further, many legislative candidates running as Democrats won't go anywhere near Obama.

It is very possible that John McCain could carry Tennessee on the strength of the anti-Obama vote. Further, if people here believe that Barack Obama may win the national election, they may react by giving long suffering Tennessee Republicans our General Assembly majority at long last.

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