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Tenn. Senate: Corker's Cash Advantage

The Fix got the chance to sit down with former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker today to chat about his campaign for the Republican Senate nomination in Tennessee.

Bob Corker
Will Bob Corker's deep pockets help him move from 3rd place to victory in the GOP Senate primary? (Photo courtesy Corker campaign)

The interview came just two days after a poll was released showing Corker in third place (19 percent) in the three-way primary race, trailing former Reps. Van Hilleary (34 percent) and Ed Bryant (23 percent).

Despite lagging behind his two opponents, Corker said he was "ecstatic" about the poll's results, since the numbers came just two weeks into his television campaign, which he expects to continue non-stop until the Aug. 8 primary. "We had hoped to be at that point by the end of May," Corker said about his standing in the polls.

At the moment, any survey is largely testing the three candidates' name identification among voters, since the contest has not truly engaged. It makes sense then that Hilleary -- the party's nominee for governor in 2002 -- was the best known of the three, while Bryant, a candidate for Senate in 2002, placed a strong second.

Corker, who has not run statewide since 1994 (when he lost the Senate primary to Frist), may be the least-known candidate, but he is, by far, the best financed -- the key ingredient to winning the primary, he said.

At the end of March, Corker had raised an impressive $5.5 million and had $4.2 million in the bank. Contrast that with the $1.8 million that Hilleary and Bryant have each raised for the race and the $1.2 million and $1.1 million the two men have on hand, respectively. While Corker has mined the unusually active political donor class of Tennessee, he has also had help from Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who hosted a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for Corker last night. Coleman, a fellow former mayor, also hosted a meet and greet on March 10 for Corker at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis.

Corker is using that financial advantage to introduce himself to Republican voters in the state with two biographical ads that focus on his business background and ability to create jobs. Expect Corker to draw a strong contrast between his business background and the fact that both Bryant and Hilleary are former House members and lawyers. The ads are produced by Paul Curcio -- the campaign's media consultant. Glen Bolger, a partner in Public Opinion Strategies, is the campaign's pollster.

Bryant and Hilleary are not expected to begin their own television campaigns in the immediate future, but neither candidate can wait too long as early voting runs from July 14 to 29. In 2004, roughly half of the vote was cast either early or absentee; in the 2002 primary between Bryant and Sen. Lamar Alexander, 35 percent of the vote came from either early or absentee ballots.

While Corker is supremely confident about his chances of winning, there are several pending issues that Bryant and Hilleary will use to cast the former mayor as a liberal -- not the best moniker when trying to win a Republican primary.

Corker has acknowledged that he voted in two Democratic primary elections in 1998 and also makes no secret that he raised taxes during his tenure from 2001 to 2005 as Chattanooga mayor. On the former issue, Corker says he was living in Davidson County (Nashville) at the time and the only way to have an influence on his elected officials was to vote on the Democratic side of the ledger. On the question of raising taxes, Corker said his predecessor left him with little choice. "Houdini would have had to raise taxes," Corker said, adding that by the end of his term Chattanooga had its lowest property taxes in more than five decades.

Nonetheless, these two issues fit nicely into 30-second attack ads. Corker will certainly have the resources to respond, but it remains unclear whether either or both issue will be disqualifying for him in the primary.

The prospect of an all-out brawl on the Republican side has Democrats overjoyed as Rep. Harold Ford Jr. is running unopposed for his party's nomination. To date, Ford has run an extremely strong campaign and shown a willingness to take risks -- most notably running early television advertising on issues of the day, like port security and -- more recently -- gas prices.

Republicans are watching Ford closely. The National Republican Senatorial Committee noted today that Ford leases a sport utility vehicle through his congressional office and charged more than $2,500 worth of gas to his congressional office in 2005.

Committee aides also provided an excerpt from Ford's appearance on MSNBC's "Hardball" last night. When asked whether people should be allowed to drive SUVs, Ford responded: "People have a right to drive what they want to drive. I think that if we ask for sacrifice from our troops, we should ask for sacrifice from the American people."

Nonetheless, Ford will be a formidable candidate in the fall, especially, Republicans acknowledge, if Bryant or Hilleary win the nomination. Polling has shown him running even or ahead of all three GOP candidates.

With Democrats needing a six-seat pick-up to retake control of the Senate, Tennessee currently offers them their best opportunity outside of Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Montana, Ohio and Missouri.

Check The Fix tomorrow morning: The Friday Line this week will be our latest ranking of the hottest Senate races. Here's a link to last month's Senate rankings.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 11, 2006; 3:45 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: The Friday Line: Static Senate Rankings Still Favors Dems

Comments

Harold Ford will effectively unite the State and the Country while looking out for the American People. Vote for Harold Ford Jr...

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2006 6:20 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: insurance auto | June 8, 2006 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Ford has been getting free time to national news TV shows shows he has the field all to himself with zero competitions from Democrats. He gets to save all his money to try to defeat the Republican chosen in the primary soon, and then the debate will start. How many times does he identify himself as a Democrat?
The state is a strong GOP state for the Senate. If the Democrats keep the federal judges blocked, delays work getting done in the Senate, and keeps smacking around the Republican party, the voters will reject Ford. The state elected President Bush twice, and the political reality is that they still want him in office, they want him to lead our nation, and they want to deny the Democrats from taking over to block the President

Posted by: Tom | May 14, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Intrepid failed to clarify why the big Elephant will fall. Look at this
"In 1994 a popular Democrat - James Sasser - was voted out. Al Gore's former seat went to Bill Frist. In 2000, Gore lost his home state. This time around Tennessee will illustrate that the GOP's solid south is poised to atrophy. The big bad elephant is falling apart."

Why would the elephant fall apart? Tennessee is a solid GOP state, it rejected Al Gore in the 2000 election and rejected Kerry in 2004. What is going on that Intrepid thinks the state will suddenly shift to the Democrats? Failure to provide any evidence to back up a remark like that just gives Intrepid ZERO debate points. Ford will lose.

Posted by: Thomas | May 12, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Harold Ford is the typical Democrat hypocrite, talking out of one side of his mouth about conserving energy while he drives an SUV and is spending FAT CAT bucks to fuel it. This is from the same party talking about alternative energy, yet is blocking the wind turbines of the shores of Nantucket. This is the same hypocrisy which clobbered Kerry, (he is part of the wealthy Dem group with Walter Cronkite and the Kennedy cult). Wind turbines flourish along the highways in Iowa, hundreds of them, as well over 40 of them along the Illinois interstate near Paw Paw.
The Democrats seem to want corn and sugar for ethanol, but block wind energy. That just is silly to deny farmers the ability to raise a bounty of money to help provide clean energy for homes. On the Nantucket thing, the entire haven would be fueled by the energy produced by those wind turbines and the rich Democrats are blocking it.

Posted by: Cheryl | May 12, 2006 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Batboy: hate to defend Chris but by running the ads Ford HAS shown a willingness to takes risks. Your post more or less agrees with that; the ads may all be for nought. RMill tells us that "Both Ford and Corker are inching upwards" so apparently Ford is doing something right. Even a relatively mild ad can buy visibility and that's what Ford needs while the R's go at each other.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | May 12, 2006 8:54 AM | Report abuse

"To date, Ford has run an extremely strong campaign and shown a willingness to take risks -- most notably running early television advertising on issues of the day, like port security and -- more recently -- gas prices."

Chris:

If your standard of running an "extremely strong campaign" is predicated on knocking the president around on ports and lamenting the cost of expensive gas - these are hardly profile in courage moments for any candidate for office in 2006.

Second point - Ford spending (or wasting) money early is an indicator to you that he is running a strong campaign? Why don't you share with your limited readership the amount of points he's bought with these hard hitting ads saying gas should be cheaper? I'm not convinced that you aren't being dupped by low-level buys that noone is seeing.

Aren't you paid good money by the WP to think a bit harder than this? I think the Fix is reaching...talk to some other operatives....

Posted by: batboy | May 12, 2006 1:48 AM | Report abuse

elected...

I'd start a war and get war powers and take over your country and you wouldn't know it until I sold your condos,


and made you move to India, because that was the patriotic thing to do...you'd probably buy it


because you're patriots...

yeah patriots....forget about Bill of Rights, that's olde fashioned...

hoo rah hoo rah..

ha ha ha...

Posted by: I'd love to see me | May 11, 2006 11:02 PM | Report abuse

I would love to see Ford elected. That man is a star in the making, and could end up being a great senator. The Democrats need to start expanding back into the South (Dean's 50 state strategy is the best idea I've heard so far) and Tennessee is a great place to start. I say, Give 'em Hell, Harry!

Posted by: Jake | May 11, 2006 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Tennessee will prove to be a bellweather regarding the GOP's decline just as it illustrated their ascendancy a decade ago. In 1994 a popular Democrat - James Sasser - was voted out. Al Gore's former seat went to Bill Frist. In 2000, Gore lost his home state. This time around Tennessee will illustrate that the GOP's solid south is poised to atrophy. The big bad elephant is falling apart.

http://www.intrepidliberaljournal.blogspot.com

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal Journal | May 11, 2006 7:43 PM | Report abuse

"Republicans are watching Ford closely."

Chris, you have a gift for understatement. Mr. Ford will probably wake up one day to find Karl Rove standing over him with a videocamera. Oh look, he's yawning! Let's splash that all over Fox News 57,000 times. "As you can plainly see, spawn of Satan Harold Ford has a really big mouth. What does that say about his moral character? Sean, can you comment on how many white women he has probably raped?"

And Republicans have the gall to infer that Democrats are not issue-driven.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | May 11, 2006 6:22 PM | Report abuse

CC

Only polls I found that Ford had the lead was done by Global Strategy Group back in October 2005.

Posted by: RMill | May 11, 2006 4:53 PM | Report abuse

If Harold Ford is going to have any chance at winning this Senate seat, he needs the more conservative Van Hilleary or Ed Bryant to win the republican nomination. If the more moderate Bob Corker wins, I think Ford won't win. It would be great to see an African-American elected from a southern state, though - i'm pulling for him.

Posted by: Ohio guy | May 11, 2006 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Corker went from 39% to 35% over Ford in Feb 27 Rasmussen poll to 43% to 39% on May 1. Both Ford and Corker are inching upwards.

Posted by: RMill | May 11, 2006 4:44 PM | Report abuse

CC-

[Nonetheless, Ford will be a formidable candidate in the fall, especially, Republicans acknowledge, if Bryant or Hilleary win the nomination. Polling has shown him running even or ahead of all three GOP candidates.]

What poll says this? I'd love it but I haven't seen it.

Rasmussen
May 1

Ford 36%
Bryant 44%

Ford 39%
Corker 43%

Ford 38%
Hilleary 47%

Zogby/WSJ
March 30
Ford 42.4%
Bryant 49.9%

Ford 44.2%
Hilleary 47.2%

Posted by: RMill | May 11, 2006 4:38 PM | Report abuse

The National Republican Senatorial "Committee aides also provided an excerpt from Ford's appearance on MSNBC's "Hardball" last night...'People have a right to drive what they want to drive. I think that if we ask for sacrifice from our troops, we should ask for sacrifice from the American people.'"

Let the NRSC keep running that.

Not asking sacrifice of the general population is one of the major complaints I've heard of President Bush from retired military. They're not exactly liberal types.

Is Harold's rented SUV a Ford?

Posted by: Nor'Easter | May 11, 2006 4:21 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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