Accusing voters of racism isn’t usually the best way to win their favor. That didn't stop Turner, who has earned a reputation for talking before he thinks. Specifically, he said racism is the cause of President Obama’s unpopularity in some parts of Tennessee.
“We’ve got a president up here whose color is not the right shade according to a lot of people, and they just hate him for that reason,” Turner said. “I was talking to a guy this morning at a filling station and it didn’t matter what Obama did, he’s not going to like it because Obama’s an African American. I told him, I said, ‘Look, he’s half-white. You ought to like half of him anyway.’ These people are dead set against him for that reason, and that's unfortunate. That's very unfortunate."
The executive committee laughed nervously at Turner's little joke. I was sitting next to the party’s communications director, Brandon Puttbrese, who tried to pretend everything was cool.
“Hey, how about this for a yard sign?” I whispered to Puttbrese. ‘‘Vote Obama. He’s Half-White.”
“Send me a mock-up,” he said, not especially amused.
It's undoubtedly true racism is behind some of the anti-Obama feelings out there (and we wrote about it after the '08 election) but that won't make Turner's remarks any less offensive to some voters should the GOP choose to publicize what he said. Lucky for Turner there were no TV cameras present. In fact, Pith in the Wind was the only media in attendance.
Oddly, Turner digressed into his discussion of racism after touting an upturn for Obama in some places in this state. Democrats here are so starved for good news that they were all atwitter at Saturday's meeting because the president suddenly seems a little more popular in Tennessee than any number of world history's most despised people.
Obama still trails Mitt Romney by 7-9 points in most polling, Democrats say, but that definitely beats the 15-point trouncing he took at the hands of John McCain in '08. And that’s helpful to Democrats in state legislative races — or at least it’s not quite '08’s crushing weight on the ticket.
Turner said: "In some of the rural counties in Middle Tennessee, Obama's within striking distance. That bodes well for our candidates. I’m going to be honest with you, in some areas of West Tennessee, he’s getting clobbered. ... I’m not going to tell you the president’s going to win this state."
Party chairman Chip Forrester said the president might even gain more ground in Tennessee before the election “if Romney keeps putting his foot in his mouth and talking about the 47 percent of the electorate that he doesn’t care about. So this is critical for down-ballot races. With the narrower margin that puts races in play that might not have been in play before.”
"The trends are in our favor," Forrester said.