The exchange between Wade Munday, Chip Forrester, and Matt Kuhn was monitored by a statewide audience of sorts, though, thanks to a glitch in transmission, to both see it and hear it required a simultaneous telephone and online hook-up — a circumstance that often made following the conversation awkward.
Compounding the difficulty was the poor sound quality of the conference-call hookup, which was exacerbated by nonstop pings as people came and went on the electronic-audience end.
Given all that, coupled with the elaborate Alphonse-and-Gaston courtesy which the three rivals showed each other (an occasional zinger coming in between the lines) and the political vagueness of much of what was said it was no easy thing sorting out the responses.
Forrester’s position was unique, in that he is the current chairman, seeking a second two-year term. Indeed, the need for continuity in following through with initiatives already begun was a note he struck more than once in his answers to questions relayed by the event’s two emcees.
Munday, the party’s former communications director, emphasized the need to create a party “infrastructure” and stressed his past experience as a fundraiser.
Kuhn, a past Shelby Country Democratic chairman and the only non-Nashvillian among the three, lobbied for a “40 under 40” initiative, whereby the party should actively recruit a new generation of candidates. In general, though he disclaimed a need to “look backwards” and cast blame, he was paradoxically more blunt than Munday in calling for a break with current policy.
“A family cannot put itself back together with failed past relationships that are putting a strain on the organization,” said Kuhn, who added that he would support Munday for chairman if he himself did not get the nod.
Forrester was equally determined to defend that policy, including what he said had been his success as a fundraiser. In contrast to the other two, who suggested casting a wider net, Forrester emphasized a need to make pragmatic choices in the allocation of the party’s resources to specific candidates and districts.
On the ticklish issue of Democratic candidates who chose in 2010 to dissociate themselves from the party’s national leaders hip, the three displayed contrasting attitudes. Kuhn stressed that different circumstances — such as urban vs. rural — dictated different approaches, and he called for the emergence of “pro-business” candidates. Munday called for a blanket support of candidates nominated in Democratic primaries, and Forrester emphasized the need for candidates to work within the established party structure.
A striking feature of the discourse was the acknowledgement by all three candidates that Tennessee Democrats were now a “minority party” and had to deal forthrightly with that fact. All three agreed that the party should maintain a critical stance in regard to the Republicans as the party in power.
It was difficult to say which candidate might have gained the most traction. All have been campaigning vigorously in the several corners of the state. As he did two years during his successful run for the chairmanship, Forrester claims numerous commitments from the members of the state executive committee, who will meet in January in Nashville to make a decision. Munday seems to have made some impact at the grass roots level, and Kuhn boasted outright Monday night about the support he has from the likes of retiring 8th District congressman John Tanner, his former boss, and former party chairman Doug Horne of Knoxville, among others.