POLITICS: Draft Mike?

7th District Democrats get their hopes up as they eye a possible congressional run by Memphis’ Crime Commission head.


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Democrats of Tennessee’s 7th congressional district, who haven’t elected one of their own to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than thirty years, are dreaming anew as of this week.


Several of them have launched an impromptu “Draft Mike” movement, hoping to persuade Mike Heidingsfield, current head of the Memphis-Shelby County Crime Commission, to carry the party standard this fall against incumbent congressman Marsha Blackburn, one of the GOP’s rising stars in the House.


The good news for the needy Democrats is that Heidingsfield, who has just returned from a year spent training members of the fledgling Iraqi police force on behalf of the State Department, is willing to consider the idea. Or so he said after addressing members and guests of the Germantown Democratic Club at the Butcher Shop restaurant in Cordova Monday night.


“I surely wouldn’t close the door on it,” said Heidingsfield when asked point-blank after his speech about the prospect of running. And, though he has been addressing several groups of late about his experiences in Iraq, regardless of their political coloration (a speech to the downtown Kiwanis Club was reviewed in the “Fly-By” section of last week’s Flyer), he affirmed Monday night that, if he ran, he would likely do so as a Democrat.


Appropriately enough for those Democrats who might thereby get their hopes up, Heidingsfield’s status as a former Air Force colonel and high-profile tour of duty in Iraq give him the kind of military cachet that was possessed by the last Democrat to be elected from the district – former Admiral William Anderson, a long-term incumbent who was defeated by the GOP’s Robin Beard, an ex-Marine, in 1972.


No other Democrat has won since, though Bob Clement, then of Dickson, and later a congressman from Nashville’s 5th District, came close against Republican Don Sundquist in 1982. (Clement lost a race for the U.S. Senate in 2002; Sundquist served two terms as governor and retired from politics in 2003.)


One thing that Heidingsfield, who headed up the U.S. police-training mission in Iraq, and Blackburn, who has made several trips to that beleaguered Middle East country, share is their upbeat assessment of the Iraqi people’s gratitude for their liberation from former dictator Saddam Hussein. From that point, their perspectives differ, however.


Blackburn has continually professed optimism about the prospect for an enduring democracy in Iraq, while Heidingsfield has made it clear that he foresees the likely development there of a Shiite theocracy, like that of neighboring Iran, and the possible splitting of Iraq into three spheres of influence – one Shiite, one Sunni, and one Kurdish.


Asked Monday night whether the United States should have invaded Iraq in the first place, Heidingsfield said, “No, I don’t think we should have gone in there” and went on to say that the American military presence had drawn the very kind of militant Islamic opposition that had been wrongly identified in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion.


Heidingsfield said American forces were so stretched thin and tied up as a result of the Iraq venture that a future military effort against Iran, a more dangerous power, might be hampered. He said he had “no doubt whatsoever” that such a military mission was in the planning stages.


Blackburn, meanwhile, was heard from during the week – issuing a press release that blasted former Vice President Al Gore as well as two former Democratic presidents for “trashing [their] country while traveling on foreign soil.”


Focusing on remarks made by Gore in Saudi Arabia about alleged abuses in the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies, Blackburn said, “"We've now watched Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore slam the United States in speeches across Europe and the Middle East.   Whether they're pandering to audiences hostile to the United States or simply espousing their policy views, their comments fuel the sort of anti-American propaganda broadcast by Al-Jazeera.   This behavior is unprecedented and dangerous."



Among the attendees at the Germantown Democratic Club’s Monday night meeting were several office-holders, both Democratic and Republican. One of the latter was District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, who held the latest in a series of events, a campaign “kickoff” at the Doubletree Hotel on Sunday and simultaneously issued a mailout bearing several hundred endorsements, some from Democrats. At press time, the GOP’s Gibbons was still unopposed, though two Democrats – Mimi Phillips and Alicia Howard had pulled petitions.


The already crowded Democratic field for the 9th District congressional race may shortly draw another entry – state Representative Joe Towns, who said last weekend he should be regarded as a “certain” candidate.


Attorney Larry Parrish, who had been considered a possible candidate for the state Senate seat of the retiring Curtis Person, is apparently going to run for a Circuit Court judgeship, instead – the one now held by D’Army Bailey..


Last week saw all five of the U.S. Senate candidates considered to be major gathered at one podium for the first time. Appearing in Nashville at a forum sponsored by the Tennessee Press Association during the TPA’s annual convention were Democrats Harold Ford Jr. and Rosalind Kurita and Republicans Ed Bryant, Bob Corker, and Van Hillleary.


By all accounts, the joint appearance was free of the kind of vitriolic exchanges that are almost certain to ensue in the two parties’ hotly contested primaries as well as in the general election to follow. The most obvious divergence of opinion was between Kurita and Bryant over trade issues.


“I am not a free trader. I believe this is a nation of free souls, not a multinational corporation….I believe the most important thing is protecting American jobs," said Kurita, who represents the Clarksville area in the state Senate.


Replied Bryant, a former congressman from West Tennessee’s 7th District: "You can put up all the walls you want, tariffs, but that's not going to work."


The candidates expressed general agreement that future military action may be called for against Iran, which has announced plans for a stepped-up nuclear program.


Later in the week the Republican candidates engaged in a game of one-upmanship via competitive press releases.  Corker, the former Chattanooga mayor who is perceived as a moderate and has raised the most money of any Senate candidate so far (almost $5 million!), issued a release boasting that he had bested Hilleary in a straw-vote poll of Washington County Republicans (though he confessedly was edged out in the poll by Bryant).


For his part, Hilleary put out a release about his higher standing in two other recent polls, one conducted jointly by the Knoxville News Sentinel and radio station WBIR and the other by an independent polling firm for OnMessage Inc,


Bryant issued one release about the Washington County poll and another claiming a $150,000 year-end edge in fundraising over fellow conservative Hilleary.  (The last round of financial disclosures showed both clustered closely together, just short of the million-and-a-half mark.)


Ford raised hackles and eyebrows – at least in the political blogosphere – by a statement issued after last week’s funeral of Coretta Scott King. One sentence in the brief statement  -- “Funerals should not be ceremonies to fabricate a life’s works” – puzzled various bloggers and respondents, some of whom regarded Ford as thereby siding with Republican critics of anti-Bush political statements made at the funeral, while others saw the remark as an instance of impenetrable waffling.


A later appearance by Ford on the morning show of TV/radio host Don Imus seemed to put the congressman resolutely on the side of the political positions taken during her lifetime by King. Ford appeared to condone at least the religious/cultural context of the avowedly political remarks made by former president Carter, the Rev. James Lowery, and others.


Reminder: Thursday of this week sees the first important deadline of this election year. All candidates wishing to file for offices in the May 2nd party primaries for countywide offices must have their completed petitions into the Election Commission by noon. Candidates wishing to run as independents for countywide office have until April 6 to file. Thiss Web site will monitor last-minute filing developments this week.

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