POLITICS: Bryant Gets a Life

The anti-abortion lobby lines up behind the former 7th District congressman in the Senate race.



Erratum: The item regarding Mark White, potential Republican candidate for the 9th District congressional seat, originally misidentified him as "Mark Wright."

The abortion issue, which dominates discussion of President Bush’s latest Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals judge Samuel Alito, may come to be a major factor in next year’s  Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Or so hopes Senate hopeful Ed Bryant, who announced in a conference call Tuesday that he was the official endorsee of Tennessee Right to Life for the seat being vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist..
Bryant, a former congressman from Tennessee’s 7th District, is opposed in the Republican Senate primary by former 4th District U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary, and by ex-Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker.
The two ex-congressmen are generally considered more conservative than Corker, and are thought to be mining the same voter base – a circumstance that has prompted partisans of either candidate to call for the other to leave the field, thereby creating a clear one-on-one race against presumed moderate Corker.
While insisting, “I could win a three-man race,” Bryant said he regarded Tuesday’s endorsement as “the first step” in persuading Hilleary to step aside. “It would certainly make things easier, and he would live to fight another day.”
Brian Harris, the president of Tennessee Right to Life, indicated to reporters that  he, too, had urged a “deeply disappointed” Hilleary to allow the state’s pro-life movement to unify behind a single candidate in the Republican primary. Harris stopped just short of saying he had directly asked Hilleary, whom he pronounced “acceptable” on the abortion issue, to step aside.
But, even though Corker has recently made a point of proclaiming himself to be formally pro-life, Harris said he did not regard the former mayor as worthy of support. “That’s absolutely correct,” he said when pressed on whether Corker was considered unacceptable by the pro-life movement. He said Tennessee Right to Life expected candidates to demonstrate a “history” of continued support for anti-abortion initiatives.
Harris said his organization had already been disillusioned after having given tacit support in the past to  “one member of the U.S. Senate” who, he said, “can’t seem to decide whether he’s for or against human cloning.” That, he said when pressed, was U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, who defeated Bryant in the 2002 Senate GOP primary and went on to defeat Democrat Bob Clement in that year’s general election.

9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., one of two Democratic candidates for the Senate, threw down the gauntlet this week to “all” his opponents, challenging them  to “declare publicly how they would vote on the federal budget bill before Congress.”
Ford’s challenge stands in some contrast to his position last spring when his only declared Democratic rival, state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville,  sharply criticized the congressman for not being on hand to vote on a prior  budget measure favored  by the Bush administration.
At the time of that budget vote, Rep. Ford was on a campaign swing through Tennessee and was attending state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s annual “Coon Supper” in Covington.
In the news release which conveyed his current challenge, the congressman took the administration’s latest budget proposal to task on several grounds
– including cuts in Medicaid, in educational support funds, and in food stamps

Meanwhile, there’s a potential Republican aspirant for Rep. Ford’s congressional seat -- businessman Mark White, who  ran a spirited race last year in the crowded Republican primary  for the District 83 seat in the state House of Representatives, eventually losing to fellow Republican Brian Kelsey. Undeterred by that loss, White said last week he is inclined to raise the bar, degree-of-difficulty-wise, by.going for the 9th District congressional seat.
Though it was in Republican hands before being captured by Democrat Harold Ford Sr. in 1974, what is now the 9th district is largely African-American and overwhelmingly Democratic, and White, if nominated, will not enjoy the conditions which allowed Republican Terry Roland to do well two months ago against Democrat Ophelia Ford in a special state Senate election.
In that race, to fill the vacancy left by the indicted John Ford’s resignation from his longtime District 29 seat, turnout was low, and Roland – who continues to contest the results – was able to come within 13 votes of victory.
Even if the state Senate should do the unlikely, voiding that election and calling for a new one when it meets in January, most observers see the chances of ultimate success for Roland or any other Republican to be remote.  “A lot of people were looking the other way for a special election,” as White acknowledges.
Even so, he is aware of the degree to which Roland, who had been a relative outsider in the local Republican establishment, has become a figure of consequence in the party, at least in the short haul. And he thinks that he, too, can rise in the consciousness of his party-mates by making a strong effort.
“Somebody has to deliver the message, and I have one to bring,” White says.

It’s official: Former U.S. attorney Veronica Coleman announced last week that she will seek the Democratic nomination for Juvenile Court Judge next year. “This is not a race against anybody. It’s a position I’m qualified for and will seek for its own sake,” said Coleman, noting that the current longtime incumbent, Kenneth Turner, has not yet announced whether he will seek reelection. In recent years, Turner has run as a Republican.

If national Republican strategists are counting on party solidarity to minimize the dimensions of the ongoing Plamegate scandal and, in particular, of vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby's indictment, they could be in for a rude surprise.
Former congressman Asa Hutchison, the current bearer of Republican hopes as a declared candidate for governor of Arkansas next year, will have none of it. “I will say this about the lessons to be learned about the Scooter Libby indictment,” Hutchison said after appearing at an East Memphis fundraiser in his honor. “That’s something that Republicans should not diminish in terms of the seriousness of the charges. There was some reference in talking points about this being a mere technicality.  The charges are very serious because they go to the heart of our criminal justice system.”
Therefore, said Hutchison, who in recent years has served as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and as under-secretary of Homeland Security, “Mr. Libby should have a fair trail with all due process, but we should not in the course of this diminish the seriousness of the charge because it goes to the heart of our system of justice in this country.”

Hutchison, whose likely Democratic opponent next year in the race to succeed GOP incumbent Gov. Mike Huckabee will be Arkansas attorney general Mike Beebe, drew a parallel between the seriousness of the current scandal and that of the one which resulted in an impeachment trial for former President Bill Clinton in 1998. In that crisis, then Rep. Hutchinson served as one of the Republican “managers” of the impeachment case when it went to the U.S. Senate, where President Clinton was acquitted.

“There’s a consistency there,” he said

The former congressman downplayed the significance of his impeachment role in next year’s election, however.  “It was a very difficult time for our country, and my role was simply to help my country through that very challenging time. I think history’s going to continue to look at it, but I think that both sides were operating under a conviction that represented a strong difference in viewpoints in their approach to the constitution. So I did my responsibility, I turned that chapter, I moved on, and, as any trial lawyer does, you accept the jury verdict.”

The Hutchison reception, which drew supporters from both Memphis and Arkansas, was held at the local Regions Bank headquarters on Poplar Avenue.




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