Free at Last

The election is over, but some awards are due.



What kind of election was it? A memorable one, of course. They all are.

This Flyer went to press on Election Day, when the votes hadn't even been cast, much less counted. Still, some awards are due.

Worst attack ad: The one questioning the moral values of Arkansas Democratic Senate candidate Mark Pryor and linking him to flag-burning. More proof that the sole purpose of proposed anti-flag-burning laws and constitutional amendments is to provide ammunition for political attacks. What made this one weird is that Pryor's opponent, Tim Hutchinson, is a former minister who, three years ago, divorced his wife of 29 years to marry a much younger aide.

Best change in election laws: Next year, the Campaign Reform Act will put an end to unidentified "soft" money for attack ads in federal elections. "If people are going to attack, they need to have the guts to identify themselves," says pollster Berje Yacoubian.

Biggest winner: TV stations reaped an advertising windfall in an ad recession thanks to candidates who bought more airtime than Corey B. Trotz.

Worst image in a positive ad: Democratic Senate candidate Bob Clement square dancing. The glasses, the big cheeks, the silly grin. And, just a guess, he looks like a nondancer.

Worst image in an attack ad: Lamar Alexander in sunglasses in black-and-white. Amazing what a pair of shades and a receding hairline can do to a clean-cut image.

Bad words: HMO, TennCare, Sundquist, millionaire CEO.

Good word: veteran.

Most interesting proposals in other states with fiscal problems: Ohio voters weighed in on gambling (video slots at racetracks), while the Republican candidate for governor of Arizona proposed selling off the downtown state fairgrounds in Phoenix for $75 million for 96 acres.

Biggest demographic anomaly: The lottery would benefit college students, but according to Census 2000, only 20 percent of Tennesseans are college grads and Tennessee ranks 45th in percentage of people over age 25 that are high school grads.

Most skewed view: Memphis and Shelby County look less like the rest of Tennessee every year. Tennessee is 80 percent white, 16 percent black, and so strongly Republican that native son Al Gore couldn't win the state in the 2000 presidential election. Shelby County is evenly divided black and white, and black Democrat A C Wharton crushed a white Republican in the last county election.

Best campaign tactic: Lottery proponent Steve Cohen attending his opponents' press conferences. He got to hear their claims immediately and unfiltered, and the media often let him respond on the spot. Few politicians are better than Cohen at getting free media time.

Most overexposed: Steve Cohen. This goes along with crashing the press conferences of your opponents. Where were the testimonials from other politicians and college administrators? Cohen's challenge was to press the issue without becoming the issue, but he sometimes seemed to do just that.

Most overrated factor: Money. Clever candidates can get free publicity, and some are better off with less publicity, not more. Former Shelby County mayor Jim Rout had over $500,000 in surplus campaign contributions he could have given to Republican candidates. Rout did support Lamar Alexander and Van Hilleary but still has over $400,000 to give to charity or use in future elections.

Most underrated factor: Endorsements. The Big Three of Memphis and Shelby County, mayors Herenton and Wharton and Congressman Harold Ford Jr. logged a lot of airtime on behalf of Democrats. All of them enjoy strong bipartisian support in an election where crossover votes were crucial. On the Republican side, only Senator Fred Thompson came close as a power endorsement. Thompson has more statewide appeal than Herenton, Wharton, and Ford, but few voting precincts in the country are as solidly Democratic as the inner-city precincts in Memphis, where margins of 990-1 have been recorded in presidential and Senate elections. So Bredesen and Clement did what most Democrats do in statewide races: They spent Election Eve working Memphis.

Least in demand: Governor Don Sundquist. Both gubernatorial candidates tried to tie their rival to Sundquist in attack ads. So much for putting principle above party, as Sundquist did when he supported a state income tax.

Most unreliable: For weeks, antilottery lobbyist Michael Gilstrap and his aides asked to come visit the Flyer to meet with editorial staff members. On the chosen date, they were no-shows. A belated apology followed with a promise to reschedule "ASAP." We're still waiting. Worst wording: The lottery amendment, which begins with the proposal "that the period (.) at the end of Article XI Section 5 of the Constitution of Tennessee be changed to a comma (,) ... " and goes on and on and on. If the lottery wins, it will be no thanks to such verbiage.

Most paradoxical possibility. University of Memphis political scientist Ken Holland (and possibly others) pointed out that the lottery could lose and still win if more people voted on the proposed amendment than in the governor's race. If the amendment failed by a narrow margin, the "yeas" could still exceed 50 percent of the total votes for governor.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.

Add a comment