Much was made in the gubernatorial election of Democrat Phil Bredesen’s strong showing in traditionally Republican East Tennessee, leading to his victory in the race to succeed Don Sundquist. But while the point is valid, it also underscores the continued erosion of the traditional partisan alignment of the state.
It’s still fair to talk about East Tennessee as the Republican base and about West and Middle Tennessee as traditionally Democratic strongholds, but those characterizations are decreasingly useful. The dead hand of the pastwhich attributes those loyalties to Civil War allegiancescan still be discerned, but the more relevant distinctions today are between urban, suburban and rural voters.
Republicans clearly rule the suburbs, and Democrats have an increasingly strong grip on the citieseven in traditionally Republican areas of East Tennessee. The rural areas remain in play, however.
In the race for governor, Republican operatives sought to portray the contest as one between urbanites and Mayberry dwellers, seeking to appeal to Southern rustic romanticism and to draw a contrast to Bredesen’s very urban base. What they were glossing over is the difference between the real sticks and the pseudo-sticks represented by, say, Williamson and Rutherford counties. While the Republican suburbs tend to be richer, whiter and more uniform than the urban core, life beyond the urban fringe may be somewhat tougherwhich may reflect why Bredesen was able to hold his own, even though the Republican candidate Van Hilleary was trying to campaign as Gomer Pyle.
The most striking results came in the 7th and 8th congressional districts of West Tennessee. In the 8th District (roughly the area in West Tennessee north of Interstate 40), Bredesen carried an impressive run of small counties. He did less well in the 7th District counties to the south. Some of this is just historythe north has always been solidly Democratic, while traditionally there have been a smattering of rural Republican counties further south.
Another key factor in the 8th District counties, though, is the strength of the Democratic politiciansmost notably former Gov. Ned McWherter and Congressman John Tanner. One of the other reasons the Republicans have done well in the 7th is that they have been represented by strong Republican congressmen from the Memphis areafirst Don Sundquist and later Ed Bryantwho set up good political organizations and knew how to appeal to the rural voters. The new representative, Brentwood-based Marsha Blackburn, may find she has a harder time appealing to such voters, and she may be less helpful to other Republican candidates in statewide races.
Gore on tour
Al Gore says he won’t announce his presidential plans until after the holidays, but he’s been hitting the circuit anyway, flogging a pair of new books on “the family” he’s authored with his wife, Tipper. Gore has been getting great notices for his personal appearances, which have been witty and relaxed, and commentators say this may mark the birth of a “New Gore”just as there was said to be a “New Nixon” for the 1968 presidential campaign. Gore even had a funny appearance on David Letterman and is scheduled for Saturday Night Livemuch as Richard Nixon appeared on Laugh-in, declaring “Sock it to me!” to demonstrate his fitness for higher office.
But for all the hubbub about the book tour, nobody is saying a word about the books themselves (one of which is a collection of photos supporting the other volume). This leads to a couple of possible conclusions: 1. The books are real pabulum and, at this point, nobody believes Gore has a sincere bone in his body. 2. The books are entirely too serious, and everybody knows serious consideration of the issues has no place in politics.
Miniharold’s first stand
Congressman Harold Ford Jr. got good notices locally for his bid to become the House Democratic leader based on his appeal to a standard Southern storylineDemocrats are too liberal and need moderate leaders if they’re to beat the Republicans. The real story is much more complicated, and it’s unlikely that many of his House colleagues were impressed by the effort, despite what they may say.
The winner, liberal Nancy Pelosi, trounced Ford by a margin of 177 to 29, with the commentariat immediately declaring this a sign that the party was sailing destructively toward the left edge of the earth.
Pelosi is from the party’s liberal wing, although these kinds of victories usually have less to do with ideology than the network of relationships a politician has built up over the years in the House. Pelosi has been building up a bankroll of favors over a long House career and called in all her chits with the leadership vote.
Ford, meanwhile, in a demonstration of fealty to the New Politics, announced his candidacy on Don Imus’ morning radio showwhich may have been good entertainment, but mainly seemed like grandstanding to House members. There’s nothing legislators hate more than one of their colleagues playing to the grandstand first.
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