VOL. 132 | NO. 219 | Friday, November 3, 2017
Harris Cites Effects of ‘Trump Approach’ on County Races
By Bill Dries
Three weeks into his run for Shelby County mayor on the 2018 ballot, state Sen. Lee Harris told a group of 30 supporters in Victorian Village Wednesday, Nov. 1, that he is running as a response to the “Trump approach.”
“The Trump approach to electoral politics requires us to break everything and divide people,” Harris said. “I’m running because I’m worried about our ability to talk to one another. We’re already seeing that in the Republican Party.”
Harris, the state Senate’s Democratic leader and a former Memphis City Council member, said the local GOP has moved away from nominating moderates in the county partisan primaries. He referred to incumbent Mayor Mark Luttrell, who is term-limited, as a moderate who won his first term in 2010 by virtue of token opposition in the mayoral primary from perennial candidate Ernest Lunati.
“We know that’s not going to happen this year. We are not likely to see any moderate Republicans anymore,” Harris said. “No Mark Luttrells, no Bob Corkers, no Bill Haslams come out of their primaries anytime soon.”
The Republican primary field for county mayor is county trustee David Lenoir, county commissioner Terry Roland and Juvenile Court clerk Joy Touliatos. Roland was the chairman of Donald Trump’s West Tennessee campaign in 2016.
Harris has company in the Democratic primary from former county commissioner Sidney Chism.
Former state Rep. and Bank of Bartlett president Harold Byrd is considering an entry in the Democratic primary, 15 years after Byrd began a bid for mayor and dropped out of the race at the filing deadline.
Trump carried Tennessee in the general election, taking the state’s 11 electoral votes. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried Shelby County with the city’s Democratic majority. But the Republican base in the county’s suburbs is essential to any Republican hoping to win statewide.
So far, the message from Tennessee Republicans running in the 2018 gubernatorial and Senate races has been that they all stand with Trump. That was the message among the six Republican contenders for governor at a Memphis forum last month, and it was re-enforced the next day at the Tennessee Federation of Republican Women gathering by U.S. Rep. and Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn and U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Germantown.
Harris told those at the Victorian Village fundraiser, the first of three for him in as many days, that he has shown he can work with Republicans in the Tennessee Legislature and still represent Democratic political values.
He referred to the five Democratic state senators in the 33-member Senate as a “super-minority.”
“I’m running because I think I’ve shown that I can get things done and I can work with anybody,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I believe in our issues. I believe in health care. I believe in the minimum wage. I believe that a woman should be in charge of her own body. And I don’t believe that the government should have any say-so in who you love. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t get anything done.”
Meanwhile, Harris’ campaign released a July poll conducted for it by Prism Surveys showing the preferences of 562 Shelby County voters in a Harris matchup with either Roland or Lenoir as the Republican nominee.
The survey shows 50 percent of those contacted were unsure whether they would support Harris or Lenoir. Of those who made the choice, 29 percent indicated Harris and 22 percent Lenoir.
The percentage of “unsure” participants in a Harris-Roland matchup was 42 percent, with Harris the choice of another 33 percent and Roland the choice of 26 percent.
Prism used an automated interactive voice response system for the survey, which has a 4.1 percent margin of error and uses home phones only because of the responses through automation that are required.
The survey was weighted to reflect an electorate that is 52 percent white and 47 percent black, which was the racial breakdown of the turnout in the 2014 county general election.
Among black voters surveyed, 50 percent chose Harris over Lenoir’s 9.8 percent, and 52.6 percent chose Harris over Roland’s 10.3 percent.
But the percentages for African-American voters indicating they were “unsure” came in at 40.2 percent in a Harris-Lenoir matchup and 37.2 percent in a Harris-Roland matchup.
Among white respondents, the “unsure” percentages were the majority – 57.1 percent in a Harris-Lenoir matchup and 51.2 percent in a Harris-Roland match up. Lenoir was the choice of 28.7 percent of the white voters surveyed to 14.2 percent for Harris. Roland was the choice of 32.3 percent to Harris’ 16.5 percent.
Campaigns and candidates rarely release internal polls that don’t show them winning or closing the gap on a rival in the lead. So the results should be taken with that in mind.
The poll doesn’t reflect how Harris would fare against Touliatos, who announced for the Republican primary in August, or how he would fare against Chism in the May Democratic primary.
It does reflect that even though the county primaries are seven months away and the general election 10 months away, it’s not necessarily something voters are focused on at the moment. That is likely to change once the new year begins and candidates begin hand-to-hand campaigning.
Among respondents who identified themselves as Democrats, Lenoir and Roland each registered 9.3 percent crossover support in a general election matchup with Harris. Of the Democrats surveyed, 43.9 percent indicated they were “unsure” who they would choose in a Harris-Lenoir matchup, and 39.4 percent were “unsure” in a Harris-Roland matchup.
Harris’s crossover support among those in the survey who identified as Republicans was 10.5 percent in a matchup with Roland and 8.6 percent in a matchup with Lenoir.
But the leading choice among Republicans in the survey was “unsure” – 59.5 percent in a Harris-Lenoir matchup and 52.9 percent in a Harris-Roland matchup.