Operatives of the national Gore-Lieberman campaign will return to Memphis next week to put the final touches on what is shaping up as a mammoth local fund-raiser involving both Democratic candidates. The affair, involving a multi-tiered ticket range, is provisionally set for October 24th and would feature a Mud Island rhythm-and-blues concert.
All these details are subject to change; the one thing that wont is the new determination by officials of Tennessee Democratic Victory 2000 (co-sponsors with the Democratic National Committee of the forthcoming fund-raiser) to make Tennessee an active battleground in the presidential-campaign wars.
Until recently both major parties had seemed reluctant to commit resources to the state-- each side preferring to fight verbal wars against each other and to cite competitive polls.
That began to change when GOP standard-bearer George W. Bush showed up in Nashville last week for a major fund-raiser and series of photo-ops-- an appearance that may have drawn Gore into what had been thought of up to that point as a limited venture in Memphis involving only vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman.
Still lacking are in-state political ads boosting the two candidates. Republican state chairman Chip Saltsman likened the absence of ads to a game of chicken, saying, If Gore goes up with TV ads first, he admits he has a problem. For his part, Roy Herron, chairman of the statewide Gore-Lieberman effort, responded that his side didnt plan on firing the first shot in Tennessee.
What both sides may remember during a campaign still rated as neck-and-neck is that the Clinton-Gore ticket barely won Tennessee in 1996-- on the strength of an all-out showing in Shelby County. That local effort was led by former U.S. Representative Harold Ford Sr., who was intent on seeing to the election of his son and namesake as his successor.
Harold Ford Jr., who has since become a national figure, didnt even draw an opponent in his reelection battle this year, and Ford Sr., now a high-priced consultant, may have superintended his last political battle with last years disastrous loss of brother Joe Ford to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
That makes the statewide Democratic effort more crucial than ever, and the Memphis situation decidedly iffier.
Thats one reason why local Democrats reacted with disproportionate panic when Shelby County Commissioner Shep Wilbun, an African-American, recently threatened a party-splitting independent run for the relatively minor job of county register. Wilbun was eventually brought in line, and unity-minded Shelby County Democrats are looking to next months projected Gore-Lieberman event as a decisive act in both the local and the national campaigns.
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