Tennessee Republicans are trying to publicly maintain an air of cautious optimism about the November election—while behind closed doors they are jumping for joy and fist-pumping YES!!!!!!!
Oh, they'll be happy if John McCain wins the presidency, but they are more focused on his winning Tennessee and helping the rest of the ticket—like state legislative races. Barack Obama is running about 35 percent in the polls in Tennessee. That has lifted Republican spirits from last spring's depression and has been making them a little happier all summer.
Gov. Phil Bredesen, with his typical political tone-deafness, said he told the Obama team to go campaign in a state where he has a better chance of winning. If Obama ignores Tennessee altogether, his influence on the ticket will be even more negligible. Bredesen did tell the Democrats that if Obama insists on coming to Tennessee, he is willing to campaign with him across the state. Curb your enthusiasm, Democrats!
Hillary Clinton would have had a chance to carry Tennessee. Her husband Bill did it twice. Yes, he had Al Gore on the ticket. But how did that work out for Al in 2000? Even if she didn't win the state, Clinton would have been more competitive, and thus more help for Democrats further down the ballot.
The only worry for the Republicans has been the rather lackluster support for McCain among conservatives. Then last week McCain named Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to the ticket. She is exactly the kind of conservative that rank-and-file conservatives had hoped to nominate before they backed into McCain—the default position after everyone else was rejected. The ironic winning ticket for the GOP in Tennessee is the liberal Obama on the one ticket, and the addition of conservative Palin on the other.
Some Democrats seem to be taking heart from a couple of developments. Hurricane Gustav has sabotaged the Republican convention. Conservatives will tell you, however, that they agree with filmmaker Michael Moore that the hurricane was a gift from God—it prevented President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney from attending the convention.
Then there are the stories about who is and isn't pregnant in the Palin family. It started with the vicious lefty blog rumor about Sarah Palin faking her last pregnancy to hide the fact it was really her unwed daughter. This led to the governor announcing that her 17-year-old daughter wasn't pregnant then, because she is pregnant now. One wonders what the effect of these personal attacks will have on women voters. Clinton's allegations about sexism against women in public life just got another boost. If you think a woman who rejected an abortion and delivered a Downs Syndrome baby and who stands behind her pregnant daughter will turn off the fundamentalist Christian base, you don't understand conservative Christians.
If Palin energizes conservatives and rural Democrats stay home or vote for McCain, it has to be good for Republican legislative candidates. There are also some conservative areas losing longtime Democratic representatives due to retirement. Randy Rinks and Frank Buck, two stalwarts of the House Democrats, aren't seeking re-election. Could the Republicans pick up the two seats? They certainly hope so.
The Republicans need to pick up four seats to get control of the House. They got effective control of the state Senate last year. The state has trended Republican for years, but the Democrats have been able to maintain control of the House because they have control of the House. Re-apportionment often saves them. Control also allows them to solicit campaign funds from lobbyists and special interests to overwhelm challengers.
Only House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's political skills and superior fund-raising has enabled the Democrats to retain control. If the Republicans don't get control this year, most observers think they will two years from now.
It was hard for people to imagine a state senate not presided over by Lt. Gov. John Wilder, the longest serving senate speaker in the nation. But he has gone home to Somerville. It made people realize it could happen in the House as well.
Never underestimate the ability of Republicans to blow it, but this could be the year they reach the Promised Land. Thanks to the Obama-Palin ticket.