Politics » Politics Feature

Signs and Signals

Joe Biden inspires state Democrats, Joe Ford gets some help, and Charlotte Bergmann introduces herself.



For a party so intent on husbanding its financial resources that it skipped the customary banquet at its annual Jackson Day affair in Nashville, holding instead a two-hour convention of sorts in a Belmont University arena space, the Tennessee Democratic Party enjoyed some high-on-the-hog moments last Friday night.

Besides a limited candidate list of statewide hopefuls, including Roy Herron, who is running for Congress in the 8th District, and Mike McWherter, the party's default nominee for governor, the event boasted two speakers of more than usual note — former Vice President Al Gore and the current vice president, Joe Biden.

Gore, whose role was limited to introducing keynoter Biden, looked slimmed-down, even sleek, and appeared relaxed — no small feat, given back-to-back recent news reports concerning his divorce from wife Tipper, rumors of an affair with an environmental activist, and, most sensationally, charges from a Portland, Oregon, masseuse concerning an alleged sexual assault by Gore in a hotel room in 2006.

Biden fired up the Democratic audience with a take-no-prisoners speech that placed the blame for the country's long-running recession squarely on the Republicans, whose "moralizing about deficits is like an arsonist moralizing about fire safety," said the vice president.

Biden contrasted the mega-deficits that occurred under former President George W. Bush with the surpluses Bush inherited from the Clinton-Gore years and with successes he said had been achieved by President Barack Obama's stimulus plans.

The GOP was attempting to beguile the electorate with a "repeal and repeat" strategy that required direct and energetic rebuttal by Democrats, Biden said.

Bob Tuke, a former state Democratic chairman, spoke for many of the Jackson Day attendees afterward when he said that the party's candidates running for office in Tennessee this year should follow Biden's aggressive lead and "stop being so timid" in their often defensive-sounding rhetorical posture.

Current Democratic chairman Chip Forrester announced that the party harvested some $400,000 from this year's Jackson Day event.

• The same Berge Yacoubian poll that reported a commanding lead for incumbent 9th District congressman Steve Cohen in his Democratic primary race with former mayor Willie Herenton (see Cover Story, p. 18) also contained information on the Shelby County mayor's race between Sheriff Mark Luttrell, the Republican nominee, and interim Mayor Joe Ford, the Democratic nominee.

Luttrell appears to have pulled ahead of Ford by a margin of 5 percent in this survey, a sequel to a previous one by Yacoubian which showed the candidates essentially tied for the lead. The new poll states that 13 percent of the voters in its sample remained undecided — a statistic that broke down, somewhat surprisingly, into a ratio of 61 percent black and 39 percent white.

Ford's handlers, perhaps mindful that their candidate's chances might depend on his ability to solidify the Democratic base, promptly announced that former Congressman Harold Ford Jr., now a resident of New York and a frequent analyst on national TV, would be making an appearance for his uncle on Wednesday. [UPDATE: He did.]

Ford also was the apparent recipient of an endorsement on a sample ballot put out by Representative Cohen.

The two mayoral candidates have clashed in two recent televised debates, one on WMC-TV, Action News 5, the other on WREG, News Channel 3. Most observers reckoned Ford as having the upper hand in the first debate, with Luttrell perhaps reversing the outcome in the second.

• Motorists driving west on Union Avenue may have noticed the appearance in the last week of a giant billboard suggesting that "Charlotte Bergmann Can Whip Willie Herenton."

For the politically uninitiated, Bergmann, an African American and a Republican, is her party's likely nominee to run for Congress in the 9th District. And, while her presence is a familiar one at GOP meetings and her signs adorn this or that Memphis street, the billboard may be serving as Bergmann's self-introduction to the population at large.

Aside from the matter of how Bergmann expects to avoid the lack of electoral success experienced so far by black Republican candidates, the main question suggested by the billboard, especially in view of up-to-date polls in the 9th District Democratic primary, is this: What can she do against Steve Cohen? But perhaps the billboard purporting to answer that question is a sequel yet to come.

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