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VOL. 129 | NO. 140 | Monday, July 21, 2014

Early Vote Expands as Campaigns Enter New Phase

By Bill Dries

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There is a unique and persistent part of the political process that gnaws at candidates, separating them from the voters they court and sometimes stalk. You might call it the day of the ballot.

In the weeks leading up to the start of early voting, they get hit up constantly by those putting out endorsement ballots to be distributed during early voting and on election day, most often by paid poll workers. Candidates must pay to be on a ballot, which those organizing the ballots say is necessary to cover printing and distribution costs.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

For candidates in the judicial races that are on the ballot once every eight years, they feel like heightened targets for the ballot pitch since many feel the judicial races don’t get enough attention.

So as early voting moves Monday, July 21, to a set of 20 satellite sites across Shelby County and Election Commission headquarters Downtown, 157 Poplar Ave., the candidates will not only be watching voters and taking them to the polls. They will be watching the ballots being distributed by others at the early voting sites.

The opening day of early voting in Shelby County Friday, July 18, featured the three Tennessee Supreme Court justices up for retention votes, who were in Memphis to counter a statewide effort including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey to vote them out of office en masse.

Terry Adams, one of the four contenders in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, was also at the Downtown early voting site as the doors opened Friday to kick off his 100-stop statewide blitz during the early voting period that ends Aug. 2.

His chief rival for the nomination, Gordon Ball, also a Knoxville attorney, was having his issues with the local Election Commission, which misspelled his first name as Gordan on sample ballots, and, Ball believed, on absentee ballots as well.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional primary contest between incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and challenger Ricky E. Wilkins had a final round of give-and-take before both campaigns moved into getting early voters to the polls.

Cohen pulled an ad destined to live long in local political lore as the “Pearl” ad. In the radio ads, which ran on two local stations, a woman identifying herself as Pearl extolled Cohen’s close ties to President Barack Obama. Critics of the ad described the woman’s voice as condescending and pandering to African-American voters.

Cohen contended he didn’t hear the ad in advance and had it pulled once he did.

Meanwhile, Cohen announced his co-sponsorship of a bill that would make it more difficult for local governments to change pension and retiree benefits when a local government files for bankruptcy, as Detroit did. Cohen signed on, and the bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan as Memphis leaders are in the midst of a contentious and emotional debate about cuts to health insurance benefits for city employees and retirees.

“We should keep our promises to firefighters, police officers and all citizens who have devoted their lives to serving their communities,” Cohen said in a written statement.

The Memphis Police Association, through its Twitter account, was critical, tweeting, “We asked for help (two) years ago and he told us that it was a local issue.”

The police union announced its endorsement of Wilkins in June.

The bill breathes new life into one of the central issues of the campaign – the differing views of Wilkins and Cohen on how much a congressman should be involved in local issues.

Cohen contends he gets involved when he knows he can make a difference but otherwise tries not to interfere with what he sees as local government’s turf.

Wilkins says Cohen hasn’t been involved enough in local issues and that the congressman from Memphis should be a “torchbearer” on issues like poverty and education, even if they aren’t issues that involve a vote in Congress.

Wilkins announced a set of endorsements on the eve of early voting from current and former elected officials that included former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who challenged Cohen in the 2010 Congressional primary, former Memphis City Council members Barbara Swearengen Ware and TaJuan Stout Mitchell, and current County Commissioner Justin Ford.

He also said the tenor of his campaign has been honorable and one “that is not one of intimidation or retribution against those who may not support me – but one which will truly represent a new example for what true leadership, humble leadership, ought to look like and feel like and talk like and be like in this community.”

“We need that,” he added. “We don’t have that right now.”

Cohen followed with a lengthy endorsement list topped by the President Barack Obama and including five current Memphis City Council members and three current Shelby County commissioners.

MORTGAGES 80 320 1,066
BUILDING PERMITS 120 590 2,248