frank_talk (2006-44)

GOP Bimbo

Trashy blonde is new face of Tennessee Republican party

by Frank Cagle

It’s been a humiliating month for U.S. Senate candidate Bob Corker. The high-powered business executive had control of his campaign taken over by the Republican Party, moved to Nashville, and turned over to Tom Ingram.

Then, when a provocative ad hit television that many people perceived as racist, he condemned it and spent several days trying to explain why a commercial for his campaign was out of his control and he couldn’t do anything about it. Is he a decisive executive or a pawn?

Tennessee has been in the national spotlight of late; the nation has noticed a black man in a neck-and-neck race for the U.S. Senate in a Southern state. I had hoped that after this U.S. Senate election, regardless of who won, there would be no analysis showing that race played a major role in the outcome. It was a forlorn hope, I know. But I didn’t expect the Republican Party to dig up Lee Atwater, prop him in a chair, and ask him what they had to do to save a desperate campaign.

The ad that has flipped our national image overnight features a blonde urging “Harold” to give her a call. The ad led many people to think the message is clear: Congressman Harold Ford Jr., a black man, is coming after your women. I say “your” women, since the black vote in Tennessee is about 16 percent and Ford needs white votes to win. I don’t think the ad is aimed at inner-city Memphis.

Some people have argued the ad is an attempt to paint Ford as a “playboy” who goes to Super Bowl parties, while Corker is a family man. Rather than racist, they argue, the ad is just tasteless and tacky. Some defense. Ford has not leveled the racism charge. He merely criticizes it for being a smutty thing to put on television. Corker labeled it tacky. It is certainly both of those things. But as someone who grew up in the South during the pre-Civil Rights era, I certainly understand how people can draw another conclusion. I remember the code words segregationist candidates used to scare white voters—the ugly flyers I don’t even want to describe. Is there a possibility the ad will backfire and Tennesseans will not allow it to push their buttons? We would hope so.

But where are we less than a week from Election Day? As with all elections, this one turns on who votes. Talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have been frantic for the last six weeks warning “our side” how disastrous it would be should the Democrats win. They are begging conservatives not to stay home in protest of high deficits, scandals and the failure to deal with illegal immigration.

There is a school of thought that many conservatives, still upset about the Republican primary, will not vote for Corker. While the National Right to Life organization has endorsed Corker, Tennessee Right to Life has been significantly silent. This organization has traditionally played a major role in get-out-the-vote efforts for Republican candidates. Fiscal conservatives are upset about the deficits of recent years.

Consider what’s been going on lately:

• The Corker campaign, aware of Corker’s weakness out west, has put primary opponent and former West Tennessee Congressman Ed Bryant in a Corker commercial.

• The Corker campaign has also turned to the big gun: Fred Dalton Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator, standing in the Ryman Auditorium, doing a commercial for Corker.

Perhaps these efforts will pay off for Corker. But if he wins there will always be the charge he did it by playing the race card.

I have argued that if you reward bad behavior, you get more of it. I still think so. If the Republicans sweep back into office you can forget any corrective action.

Quick example: President Bush reluctantly, and without fanfare, signed a bill last week authorizing a fence on the Mexican border. Congress has appropriated money to the Department of Homeland Security for it. But there is no requirement that the money be spent on the fence. Bush’s reluctance to publicize the bill indicates he has no intention of building it. But we aren’t supposed to find out until after the election. It is another betrayal.

Dick Armey, former Republican Majority Leader, in this week’s Washington Post : “Republican lawmakers forgot the party’s principles, became enamored with power and position, and began putting politics over policy. Now, the Democrats are reaping the rewards of our neglect—and we have no one to blame but ourselves.”

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville Magazine . You can reach him at frank@frankcagle.com .