The keynote speaker for the event, held Friday night at Clark Tower, was New York congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns, whose evocation of traditional party positions and item-by-item exploration of the landmark 2010 health-care bill were less meaningful perhaps than a single, locally directed statement.
After assuming the dais and priming the pump with a series of well-received jokes to the assembled Shelby County Democrats, Towns had turned serious: “I want to thank you for sending Steve Cohen to the United States Congress,” he said. “He’s somebody I enjoy working with. He’s very committed and dedicated, and what we need today more than ever is committed and dedicated elected officials.”
Towns had made more elaborate statements about his support for Cohen in the course of an interview prior to his speech.
Asked if he had taken part in the congressman’s reelection effort two years ago, Towns said, “I didn’t take a position two years ago on it. But I’ve had the opportunity to work with him. I’ve seen his voting record on many issues. I’ve seen his commitment and his work for his constituents, and I would be delighted to come in and assist him in any way I could.”
Rep. Towns said he had not coordinated his statements with Cohen and had not yet been involved in any concrete conversations about helping the reelection efforts of the Memphis congressman, who is opposed in the August Democratic primary by former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton.
Cohen was not present at the dinner, which was attended by numerous elected officials and candidates in the 2010 election cycle and had a decent turnout from the rank and file as well.
McWherter promised that his father, former Governor Ned McWherter, planned to take an active role in campaigning and that Shelby Countians would get used to seeing much of both of them. “I’m going to be a bad penny down here,” he jested. As usual, candidate McWherter stressed jobs and education as his two chief concerns.
Before the dinner, McWherter had discussed his election prospects in an interview, pointing out that he had at least one clear advantage over the three Republicans — Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Knoxville — now vying for the GOP nomination.
“I can go ahead and talk about my platform and my plans to create jobs for Tennesseans,” McWherter said. Meanwhile, the three Republican candidates were hampered by the intensity of their mutual rivalry.
He was asked about news reports of a gubernatorial forum held the night before in Murfreesboro, one in which Wamp, asked about ways of curtailing DUI violations, was quoted as saying that people like “my friend Mike, who sells beer” could help.
“I don’t view disagreement as being insulting. I view it as being the discourse that helps make our government work.”
McWherter said he intended to “lean on” the guidance of Governor Phil Bredesen on matters like that of how to make the new health-care bill, which carries with it a mandate for more health spending by the states, work in Tennessee.
In his speech to the banquet, McWherter would introduce Rabidoux as having to run against “the meanest woman in Congress,” 7th District incumbent Marsha Blackburn.
The Democratic hopeful, a professor of political science at Austin Peay University, responded, “If Marsha Blackburn were just mean alone, that would be something, but she’s mean and uninformed and, as far as I can see, extremely dangerous and divisive and polarizing.”