Steven Hale of The Nashville Scene shared an e-mail yesterday from one defeated Democrat, Steven Glaser in Tennessee House District 44, that says the party offered him little to no support in his effort to win his race. While Democrats can counter that it was a “down” year for them, the truth of the matter is that this was a Democratic seat that Glaser was defending, since Rep. Mike McDonald (D-Portland) was retiring. Republicans ran polls for their candidates and provided them with critical data (including, one presumes, access to Voter Vault-the program many GOP strategists and candidates use to find out critical voter information and plan strategy based on it). This writer has never worked internally on a Democratic campaign, but I’m going to presume that the “Votebuilder” Mr. Glaser speaks of is a similar application used by the party opposite. Glaser says he had to pay for access to the program, something that many State parties provide their legislative candidates at no additional cost.
Traditionally, parties hold fundraisers even in “bad” election cycles which are designed to help legislative candidates. Steve Glaser says the Democrats didn’t have one for him, and apparently if the party had a joint one, Glaser wasn’t let in on it. Instead, Democrats were busy sending the volunteers that their legislative candidates desperately needed off to North Carolina to campaign for President Obama. As it turns out, Obama didn’t need Tennessee Democrats or North Carolina, but their legislative candidates could have used them. Democrats may counter that Tennessee Republicans sent volunteers to North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio-and indeed the GOP did. Those who didn’t go to those places did a great deal of phone banking or calling from home to try and help the Republican ticket in those places. The difference is that by the time Tennessee Republicans went trucking off to the Land of Tar Heels, the Old Dominion, or the Buckeye State, they already knew they had control of the General Assembly well in hand-Republicans didn’t need to do that work in October in Tennessee because it was already done in July, August, and September.
Republicans have an ideological advantage in Tennessee because the Statewide electorate is more conservative. For years, Tennessee Democrats understood that-which is why you didn’t see them do crazy things like try to close union shops as Democrats did in other States. They also ran popular candidates that could raise money, and those that could raise money helped other candidates who didn’t have as much success in that department. The Democrats’ Statewide network in Tennessee-one of the most legendary in the South-is all but destroyed.
Up to this point, Republicans have had another far more distinct advantage in recent years. The party has not had perfect leadership (and can be quite factionalized at both the State and local levels), but has had committed leaders at all levels who are determined to put aside their own differences long enough to win an election or two. Tennessee Democrats have been led by people who don’t like each other, whose spats become the object of rumor, innuendo, and occasional jokes among their political opposition. Far worse, Tennessee’s State Democratic apparatus is filled with people who don’t know what they are doing, don’t know how to win elections, aren’t particularly good at reaching out to voters or helping candidates, and don’t seem to care, either. If they did care, they might have enough legislative seats to start a debate on the House and Senate floor. Tennessee Republicans have been blessed to have an opposition party filled with-bless their hearts-utterly clueless people in major leadership positions. It cannot be assumed that such will always be the case.
On the other hand, at least one commenter at the Nashville Scene suggested that Representative Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) be elected as Chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Such a move would likely spawn a spontaneous singing of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” at Tennessee Republican Headquarters.