VOL. 123 | NO. 218 | Thursday, November 6, 2008
Alexander’s Victory Attributable To Dems Too
By Bill Dries
TRIPARTISANSHIP: “I’m nominated by the Republicans. But I serve by the grace of the Democrats and independents,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said in an election eve Memphis stop. He carried Shelby County over Democratic challenger Bob Tuke in winning a second term. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES
In a race void of the attack ads that dominated the Mississippi Senate race and even one in Tennessee, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander had little trouble winning a second six-year term statewide or in Shelby County.
As Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama racked up 64 percent of the Shelby County vote, Alexander garnered 51 percent of the vote to Democratic challenger Bob Tuke’s 47 percent.
Neither the Republican nor Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committees got involved in the Senate race.
Tuke said late in the campaign that he had made it known he didn’t want the attack ads the committee paid for in the
Mississippi Senate contest in which incumbent Republican Roger Wicker defeated Democratic challenger Ronnie Musgrove.
A house divided
Prominent local Democrats who normally line up behind the party’s standard bearer in statewide races were split in the Alexander-Tuke race.
The Senate race drew about 30,000 fewer voters in Shelby County than the presidential contest.
Alexander had the backing of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who is a Democrat but not active in the local party’s executive committee. Herenton was with Alexander in his initial bid for the U.S. Senate seat Alexander won in 2002 when incumbent Republican Fred Thompson opted to pass on a re-election bid.
Alexander said he was able to get more public support from Memphis Democrats this year than in past campaigns. Alexander was elected to two terms as governor before winning the Senate seat.
“I’m nominated by the Republicans,” Alexander said at the Memphis stop on an election eve flight across the state. “But I serve by the grace of the Democrats and independents. And I’m effective as a senator in direct proportion to how well I am able to work with them.”
Alexander, who has made two bids for the Republican presidential nomination, ranked the Obama-McCain race for the White House as the “most interesting in 40 or 50 years.”
Some in the Democratic Party regarded Tuke, a former state party chairman and head of the Obama campaign in Tennessee during the Democratic primary, as a party place holder designed to keep Republicans from spending too much on the race for the White House.
But Alexander never tied his campaign that closely to the McCain-Palin ticket. He talked up the top of the GOP slate when asked. He also put in face time with McCain at an election eve stop in Blountville, Tenn., in solidly Republican East Tennessee. But in Memphis, Alexander stressed his 30-year political relationship with Herenton and other prominent Democrats.
“To represent all of Memphis you have to work across party lines, across racial lines, across regional lines,” Alexander said at the Wilson Air stop at Memphis International Airport.
Alexander knew Herenton when Herenton was assistant superintendent of the Memphis school system and Alexander was running for governor. Alexander disclosed this week that after winning election as governor in 1978, he
talked with Herenton about serving in some position at the state department of education. Instead Herenton became superintendent of the Memphis school system in 1979 following the retirement of John Freeman.
Alexander also said he had talked with Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. about several positions in his administration. As governor, he nominated Wharton to serve on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Wharton endorsed Alexander but did not put in an appearance at the Memphis stop.