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VOL. 130 | NO. 195 | Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Candidates Play Out Early Voting-Election Day Gap

By Bill Dries

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The early vote is in but still to be counted. There is still some television time booked for last-minute appeals to election day voters.

On the eve of the 2015 Memphis elections, the four leading contenders for mayor are starting to think about the course their campaigns have taken from the spring to summer to fall and making their case one last time to voters in Thursday’s elections.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The debates and questionnaires speak for themselves, and no longer have a place on schedules that in the run-up to Thursday’s Memphis election day have become about opportunities to meet and be seen by the most people possible.

No long speeches, just an “elevator pitch” and a handshake. For the candidates on Thursday’s ballot, these are the days of street corner sign waving.

And there are reminders of campaign strategies that didn’t work almost from the start – early casualties of the election year when no one’s strategy was proven, the fields of rivals weren’t set and all of the unplanned, unpredictable events were yet to unfold.

A digital billboard on Interstate 240’s North Memphis leg rotates through a set of campaign ads that include those on Thursday’s ballot as well as an ad for James Harvey, the former Shelby County Commission chairman who was the first to get out of the race for Memphis mayor.

The ads also include one for Joe Cooper, who went to court to get a spot in one of the 13 Memphis City Council races but ultimately lost, this time before voters ever got a say in the matter.

These are the days when such circumstances can seem cruel and also comforting to those who have planned their work differently.

The “plan your work and work your plan” bon mot is frequently attributed by Memphis politicos to E.H. Crump, the city’s political boss of half a century.

Outside Memphis, it’s attributed to the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi as well as to numerous 19th century church sermons.

The church and sports bookends are frequent companions and role models for the Memphis political contenders who make it to this point in the campaign.

Mayor A C Wharton cold-called the Ben Ferguson Show on 600 WREC Monday, Oct. 5, to dispute Ferguson’s portrayal of the mayoral race – a different kind of phone call at a time when robo-calls make the push for so many candidates.

Wharton declared the campaign over “for all practical purposes.” Yet there he was on air defending his record.

Even on that, Wharton and at least one of his three main challengers disagree.

“I think there’s still a few undecided voters out there,” Jim Strickland said. “We’ve got to keep pushing our message. … And then also we need to get our vote out.”

Another challenger, Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams, is already declaring victory of a sort.

“I think we’ve accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” he said. “Establish a social awareness and arouse a social consciousness.”

“I’ve got a feeling this is going to be a different election,” Williams added. “I think that we’ve also redefined the political process in this city.”

That will be the tale of what follows the vote count Thursday evening.

If Wharton wins Thursday, it will market his last four years as Memphis mayor; term limits would prevent him from running again.

A Wharton victory would set the stage for an open mayoral race in 2019.

But political custom adheres to customs of athletes and sports coaches asked about any game after the one next on the schedule.

They’re aware of what’s beyond the next game but unwilling to acknowledge it.

PROPERTY SALES 92 229 4,100
MORTGAGES 94 225 4,615
BUILDING PERMITS 170 538 9,806
BANKRUPTCIES 53 163 3,048