Two weeks from Tennessee’s presidential primary, the only hint of controversy, name calling, or anything else in the way of election-year shenanigans comes from Chattanooga, where the Tennessee Conservative Union has a bone to pick with the state’s Bush camp.
The Conservative Unionwhich isn’t much more than two guys and a fax machine, as its critics have pointed outis calling for Texas Gov. George W. Bush to replace at least five of his Tennessee delegates who publicly support a state income tax. The delegates are all current or former Cabinet-level aides to Gov. Don Sundquist, the chairman of the Bush campaign in Tennessee.
”The real story in the Tennessee primary is that George Bush is running a pro-income tax slate of delegates,“ the Conservative Union’s John Davies says. ”This is very unfortunate that the entire Bush campaign has been hijacked by the pro-income taxers. We don’t want the Republican Party to be seen as supporting the state income tax, and we don’t want George Bush, who may be our nominee, to be seen as supporting the state income tax.“
Davies won’t say explicitly who his organization supports in the GOP primary, although he goes out of his way to say, ”It seems to me that John McCain is the Republican with the best chance of beating Al Gore.“
The Chattanooga ultra-conservative, who’s been a consistent thorn in the side of the more moderate Sundquist, wants Bush to ”disavow“ the pro-income taxers and replace them. What’s more, he says, ”We think that Governor Sundquist is going to be a drain on the Bush campaign, and he should also be replaced as state chairman of the campaign.“
Davies goes so far as to say Sundquist ”should go into hiding if he knows what’s good for him“ and that ”he’s the most unpopular governor since Parson Brownlow,“ a pro-slavery Unionist who held office from 1865 to 1869.
Responding to the Conservative Union’s call for replacing the pro-income tax delegates, Bush’s state campaign manager David Kustoff, a Memphis attorney, gingerly says Davies can stick his complaints where the sun doesn’t shine.
”I guess my response would be that, first of all, the delegates in Tennessee run on the ballot and that the voters are free to choose the individuals they want to support.“
Kustoff adds, ”The only litmus test to determine who ran as a delegate was, number one, interest on the delegate candidate’s part to run, and second, their involvement in the Republican Party.“
Is the honeymoon over?
While Tennesseans finally see some manifestation of a presidential campaign here, what with Sen. John McCain opening an office on Church Street, the national media are slowly coming around to a realization about the Arizona senator. Given the media fawning over McCain, it’s like a budding romance that’s all champagne and roses waking up to discover the bad breath and annoying habits.
As the online magazine Slate put it this week, ”The Good Guy Lies.“
”Not to put too fine a point on it, but the straight-talk candidate has been telling fibs,“ writer Jacob Weisberg concludes about McCain, citing Catholic-baiting phone calls in Michigan, which McCain initially said he had nothing to do with.
When McCain was asked about the phone calls again, he said he didn’t have anything to do with the anti-Bush messages, adding, ”I don’t know who paid for them.“
McCain has since admitted that he not only knew about the calls but that he personally signed off on them.
”Questioned about his earlier comments, McCain and his spokesman Todd Harris have obfuscated, indicating that the candidate thought he was being asked about some other (nonexistent) calls directly accusing Bush of being a bigot,“ Weisberg wrote.
”McCain has also fallen back on the claim that his calls were accurate. In fact, the calls were highly misleading. But the point is that McCain’s pledge never to lie to the American people is already in tatters. At best, McCain was being economical with the truth in a way that you might call Clintonian.“
Where will Don be?
Despite a well-intentioned agenda, Gov. Don Sundquist continues to be marginalized by his own party for support of a state income tax. Last week’s Knox County Lincoln Day Dinner, billed as the largest such event in the country, featured a long list of Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker. According to attendees, letters of regret were read from U.S. Sens. Frist and Thompson, while Ed Bryant, the only GOP Congress member not in attendance, was mentioned.
Sundquist’s name never came up. And his continued exile from the rank-and-file GOP in Tennessee raises the question of where he’ll be when the GOP primary is held in Tennessee on March 14. There’s been some speculation that he’ll quietly retreat to his double-wide trailer in Florida to avoid any backlash against the campaign in Tennessee he chairsthat of George W. Bush.
”I don’t know what his plans are,“ says Bush state campaign manager David Kustoff. ”I know that it’s my responsibility to run the campaign in this state.“
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