Politics » Politics Feature

Tennessee Senate Candidates Hit Snags

Lamar Alexander and Gordon Ball have problems; interest picking up elsewhere on the political spectrum.



As has become increasingly evident — and was predictable from the start — the November 4th election ballot in Shelby County lacks the punch and volatility that was so evident in the August 7th "big ballot" election, with its myriad of party primaries, judges' races, and eccentric personalities. 


The one possible marquee race for local and statewide voters, that for the U.S. Senate, saw both candidates — the highly favored Republican incumbent, Lamar Alexander, and his Democratic challenger, Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball — stumbling this week in their efforts to gain momentum and positive public attention.

Alexander, it will be remembered, polled only 49.5 percent — a minority — of the total Republican primary vote on August 7th, a circumstance that prompted him to go hat-in-hand last month in search of support from his closest challenger, Tea Party-backed state Representative Joe Carr of Lascassas.

Carr polled 40.6 percent of the primary vote, despite having spent only $1.1 million on his campaign against Alexander's $7.1 million, and despite restricting his efforts essentially to his Middle Tennessee bailiwick. Carr campaigned very little in East Tennessee and was basically a no-show in populous Shelby County, home of another challenger, wealthy radiologist/businessman George Flinn, who polled 5 percent of the vote as a late entry.)

At their post-election meeting in September, at a Cracker Barrel restaurant on Carr's home ground in Rutherford County, Alexander asked for his runner-up's support but failed to get anything more than an assertion from Carr that he would "think about it." The TNReport.com news site reported this week that Carr, having duly thought about it, still isn't ready to endorse the GOP incumbent.

"It's not up to me. It's up to Senator Alexander. The ball's in his court," Carr was quoted as saying. Reportedly, he is insisting that the senator, who has issued a series of ambiguous statements about the hot-button issues of Common Core and immigration, be more explicit in opposing the former and standing against any variant of amnesty on the latter. (For what it's worth, Democrat Ball has done just that.)

Apparently, there are other obstacles to a rapprochement between Alexander and his former primary challenger. Carr is said to be have been resentful that Alexander failed to return "five or six" would-be concession calls from him, beginning on election night, and made a point of extracting an apology from Alexander on that score when the two of them met in September.

Carr was evidently rankled also by a poll released shortly before the August election that misleadingly showed Senator Alexander leading his challenger by 30 percent.

If Alexander was having his problems in squaring personal and political accounts with Carr (and, by implication, with hardcore Tea Partiers), Ball remained luckless in his attempts to get Alexander to even talk directly about their differences on a debate platform (though the two will appear, along with other statewide candidates, in a Farm Bureau forum two weeks from now).

The Democrat had troubles of another kind, too, stemming from a Buzzfeed.com report that Ball's campaign website consisted almost entirely of boilerplate cribbed verbatim from the published platforms of other Democratic Senate candidates  — including Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

One example of many may suffice. 

Warren: "We need to put people to work rebuilding our roads and bridges, upgrading our water systems, teaching our kids, and protecting our communities — earning paychecks and keeping Massachusetts growing."

Ball: "That's why it is so important that we get people back to work right now, rebuilding our roads and bridges, upgrading our water systems, teaching our kids, and protecting our communities, earning paychecks and keeping Tennessee and America growing."

Buzzfeed's disclosure of this and the numerous other examples of cloned prose on Ball's website forced an embarrassed response from the candidate ("I had no idea that this material was cut and pasted on my website from other sources.") and a righteously phrased demand from state Republican Chairman Chris Devaney that Ball exit the race: "Gordon Ball, with nearly everything on his website plagiarized, should do the same and halt his fraudulent campaign today."

Trace Sharp, a spokeswoman for the Ball campaign, would later set forth the obvious, that a campaign staffer, since departed, had assembled a series of statements on issues from various sources that Ball could concur with and placed them on the candidate's website.

To reprise Horatio in Act One of Shakespeare's Hamlet: "Needs no ghost come from the grave to tell us this." Virtually all candidates, all of the time, lean heavily on boilerplate prepared by staffers for their public statements. Unlike major addresses, which usually are designed specifically for candidates by their speechwriters (or improved by the candidates themselves), talking points and website pronouncements hardly every reflect much originality.

To be blunt, it is highly doubtful that most of the aforesaid sources for the Ball website — Senators Manchin, Brown, Hagan, and Warren — were the actual authors of the remarks cribbed by the unidentified Ball staffer. And it surely wouldn't be that difficult to uncover remarks made by Republicans — Alexander and Carr, say, on the evils of the "Obama agenda" — that displayed a remarkable sameness.

Still and all, this week's disclosure was a setback for Ball, as Carr's latest blowing-off of Alexander was for the Senator.


• But, if the U.S. Senate race may so far have failed to inspire many Tennesseans, other issues on the November 4th ballot — notably four constitutional amendments — were beginning to gain traction.

A case in point is Amendment One, which would essentially nullify a 2000 state Supreme Court decision that struck down the state's power to impose significant restrictions on the right to abortion — going further in many ways than the U.S. Supreme Court itself had.

The amendment reads: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother."

Proponents of the amendment say that it merely makes the Tennessee Constitution neutral on abortion. Opponents say it is designed to roll back the hard-won rights of women and cite the last prepositional phrase, from "including" on, as being especially ominous.

Resisters to Amendment One had back-to-back meetings this week. The Tennessee Democratic Party held a Tuesday night fund-raiser at the Racquet Club to oppose the amendment, and Planned Parenthood was host for a scheduled "Clergy Perspective" event opposing the amendment at Evergreen Presbyterian Church.

Adherents were also active. Two examples: Proponents of Amendment One were conspicuous in passing out literature at the two-day Bartlett Festival at Freeman Park this past weekend, and an organization called Concerned Women for America held a press conference in Nashville on Tuesday to announce results of a poll purporting to show Tennesseans favor the amendment.

All of this is tip-of-the-iceberg. Clearly, much more public activity is coming on this issue, as, for that matter, on Amendment Two, which establishes a method of selecting state appellate judges via gubernatorial appointment, coupled with legislative ratification; and on Amendment Three, which would enact an explicit constitutional ban on a state income tax.


• Some 70 attendees at a "legislative forum" held by the Tennessee Nurses Association (TNA) last week got more gratification than they may have expected from a cross-section of public officials and candidates.

The number one item on the TNA's wish list seemed to be a call for legislation in the next session of the General Assembly that would confer "full practice authority" on several categories of advanced nurse practitioners. 

Such authority, sanctioned in only 16 states, would grant the qualifying nurses latitude, independently of supervising physicians, to write prescriptions, make medical assessments, order tests, and make referrals. 

Among those endorsing the request were U.S. Representative Steve Cohen, a Democrat; state Senate candidate Flinn, a Republican; Democratic state Representatives Karen Camper of Memphis and Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley; and Tea Party U.S. Senate candidate Tom Emerson.

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