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POLITICS: Behind Kurita's Departure

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 "I had worked just as hard as a possibly could for a very long time. And sources of possible support I had reason to expect would be open to me weren't." Thus it was that state Senator Rosalind Kurita, cutting her losses, decided last week, a day before the formal withdrawal deadline, that she would be exiting the Senate campaign she had been doggedly pursuing for well over a year.

One of those sources, Kurita acknowledged, was Emily's List, the women's movement Political Action Committee whose name is an acronym for "Early money is like yeast." In Kurita's case it never rose. Nor did support from several other Democratic Party sources - both statewide and national -- that she, a practitioner of traditional Democratic politics, had reason to expect help from.

Her positions - including opposition to basic changes in Social Security and to the highly restrictive bankruptcy bill that Ford voted for last year - were measurably closer to the policies espoused by the Democratic leadership in Congress than those of the Memphis congressman, but it had become clear that the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, headed by New York Senator Charles Schumer, was backing Ford. Indeed, on a barnstorming tour last year, Schumer cited the Tennessee Democratic primary as one of several he had an interest in and warned Kurita publicly about "attacking" Ford.

Under the circumstances, one of her most significant fundraising boosts had been achieved last year from an innovative ad she placed on several political Web sites last year, showing the face of Bill Frist, the outgoing Republican incumbent, morphing into that of Kurita. "Replace this Republican Doctor...with this Democratic Nurse," the ad said. (Kurita, an RN, has made health care a chief concern both in the legislature and in her campaign.) Her fundraising in the last quarter of 2005 was significant, though far less than that of Ford, who recently announced that he had raised $1.5 million in the first quarter of 2006 - raising his total so far to the stratospheric level of  $5.7 million (putting Ford marginally ahead of previous fund-raising leader Corker.).

The Clarksville state senator's withdrawal had come as a shock to local supporters, several of whom had spend time with her as recently as the weekend previous to her withdrawal, when Kurita, an expert marksman, came to Memphis to participate in a skeet-shooting event.

Kurita said there was "absolutely no deal" with Ford or with any representative of his campaign, nor had there been any contact between the two campaigns. Asked if she intended to endorse the congressman, she said, "I really haven't even begun to think about that."

[image-1The Republicans: ]Up to this point, GOP Senate candidate Ed Bryant, who represented part of Shelby County as 7th congressman from 1995 to 2003, has made the most number of visits to Shelby County. But his Republican opponents, Van H:illeary and Bob Corker,  may be on their way to catching up.

Former 4th District congressman Hilleary, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002 and now serves as GOP national committeeman from Tennessee, made his ritual fly-by "announcement' last Wednesday at the Wilson Air terminal, where Corker had made a similar appearance last month. Although contending for the record that "there's plenty conservative vote to go around," Hilleary made it clear that he'd just as soon fellow conservative Bryant decamped from the race to make for a clearer shot at Corker, widely regarded as more moderate.

In a press release this week, Hilleary bore down on the point, claiming to be leading Bryant in most polls and to have out-raised him financially in the first quarter of 2006 with new receipts of $412,355. For his part, Bryant continued daily email attacks on purported shortcomings of former Chattanooga mayor Corker's administration, released a new Zogby poll showing him with a larger potential lead over Ford than Hilleary's, with Corker trailing the Memphis congressman.

Corker, who visited Memphis for several days this week, trumpeted his own fundraising, which showed first-quarter receipts of $772,000 - more, he said that then combined amounts of $767,000 collected by Hilleary and Bryant (c. $335,000). 

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Another year, another path?: Members of New Path, a predominantly African-American group which describes itself as "a non-partisan political action organization dedicated to encouraging young leaders in Shelby County," held a press conference at the Tom Lee Memorial on Riverside Drive last week to introduce three of the group's endorsees in this year's elections. They were: Mike Rude, a Republican primary candidate for the Shelby County Commission's District 1, Position 1 seat; Melvin Burgess Jr., Democratic primary candidate for the commission's District 2, Position 2 seat; and Kevin Gallagher, Democratic primary candidate for Criminal Court Clerk.

New Path, which is largely credited for having helped member Tomeka Hart to an upset win for the Memphis school board in 2004, held a fundraising event later in the week - one which, said Mike Ritz, another GOP candidate for the District 1, Position 1 seat, had to do without some of the group's traditional donors, who were supporting his own campaign, not Rude's nor that of Charles Fineberg, who also seeks the seat.

"They never even invited me for an interview," said Ritz, who charged that New Path had made its selections arbitrarily, in an effort to present a slate balanced by party and race.

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