VOL. 129 | NO. 107 | Tuesday, June 3, 2014
U.S. Senate Primaries Feature Different Realities
By Bill Dries
The statewide primary races for U.S. Senate on the August ballot feature the longest and best-known political back story in Tennessee politics and competing realities about what it takes for Democrats to end their shutout in statewide offices.
“The U.S. Senate is not a retirement home,” Nashville attorney and Democrat Terry Adams told a Memphis group in Cooper-Young, referring to Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, as the Memorial Day weekend began. “Forty years is long enough.”
Adams is building much of his pitch to voters on the idea that Alexander – who, over the years, has served as governor, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and president of the University of Tennessee – is vulnerable because of that longevity.
“He’s not a 36-year-old guy with a plaid shirt on walking across the state,” Adams said. “He’s a guy that’s been running for office for 40 years and working for the crooks on Wall Street and not the hardworking people on Tennessee’s Main Street.”
Adams’ campaign treasurer is Bob Tuke, the former state Democratic Party chairman who unsuccessfully challenged Alexander six years ago as the Democratic nominee in what amounted to Tuke being a political sacrificial lamb.
Adams’ campaign is similarly heavy on attacks on Alexander. But Adams contends the party’s loss of dominance in Tennessee is because its candidates have been too close to the political center and not Democratic enough or vocal enough.
“I fundamentally believe that we need a youthful vision,” he said. “We need to inspire people like they’ve never been inspired before. We have to have passion.”
In a field of four in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Adams’ chief rival is Gordon Ball, a Knoxville attorney who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Tennessee in 1978, the year Alexander was elected governor.
Ball and Adams are the only two contenders in the Democratic primary with the organization to mount a credible statewide race.
Both are running on their business background, but Adams claims Ball is too conservative to be the Democratic standard-bearer.
Ball favors some form of flat federal tax.
“We’re $17 trillion in debt, and that doesn’t include the Iraq war. We all know we have to reform our tax code – make it a fairer, simpler, more transparent tax code,” he said. “We’ve got to raise money to build our infrastructure and pay our debt.”
Ball gives the Affordable Care Act credit for what he calls “a number of good provisions.” And he adds provisions like those eliminating pre-existing conditions are too important to roll back.
“However, any legislation that is over 2,200 pages long and is administered by the IRS is, from its inception, way over the top,” Ball states on his website.
Adams agrees on pre-existing conditions but differs from there.
“Nobody with any sense whatsoever will say that our health care system was working before they passed the (Affordable Care) Act,” he said. “I think that any bill the size of this law is going to take some tweaking. We’ve got to fix it, but the only way to fix it is with a functional Senate and a functional House of Representatives and ultimately a functional Congress.”
Alexander warned his supporters about a change to a Democratic senator in the last two years of President Barack Obama’s administration.
“He’d make it one vote easier for Barack Obama to cancel your insurance, raise your taxes and take over your schools,” Alexander said Friday at the opening of his headquarters in Germantown. “We’ve moved in a conservative direction. We’ve got an open door. We’ve tolerated differences of opinion. We’ve welcomed everybody, and we’ve provided good government.”
Alexander has tea party opposition in his August primary from state Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas and five others, including former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn of Memphis.
Ball describes himself as a moderate.
“I consider myself a moderate person in just about everything I do,” he said. “I’m a moderate Democrat who believes in fiscal responsibility and who believes in social justice. And I think that’s what this state believes in.”
Adams describes Ball as “Republican light.”
“I think that the people of the state of Tennessee are a heckuva lot more likely to vote for a real Democrat than someone who is Republican light running on the Democratic ballot,” he said when asked about Ball.
But Ball sees the state as one-third Republican, one-third Democratic and one-third independent – an assessment Alexander has made in past campaigns as he, too, has talked of the necessity of crossover appeal.
“I think we need to bring those independents home to the Democratic Party,” Ball said. “We need better leadership in this state, and I think once we get those independents to come back to the Democratic side, we are going to be better off in our party.”