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VOL. 133 | NO. 55 | Friday, March 16, 2018

Candidates’ Choices

Campaign season comes with close encounters, strategy

By Bill Dries

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Polls, phone banking, messaging, yard signs, who is paid and who is a volunteer – all are elements of a campaign. And each is part of an overall strategy.

But most campaigns struggle with a schedule of which events to attend and which to forgo. And in the 2018 campaign season, the number of events is only growing as the May 1 county primary elections near, followed by the county general election and state and federal primaries in August, then the state and federal general elections in November.

Fitting a new event into a crowded schedule or switching out one gathering for another is a fact of daily life in a campaign. So is the question of sending the candidate, a campaign team or both. A March 3 forum by the League of Women Voters and the Tennessee Nurses Association at the University of Memphis University Center drew dozens of contenders from the May and August ballots.

Republican contender for Shelby County mayor David Lenoir, left, drops in on a campaign encounter between rival contenders for Shelby County sheriff Dale Lane, center, and Bennie Cobb. Lane has already won the May primary because he is running unopposed. Cobb faces Floyd Bonner in the May primary for the right to face Lane on the August ballot.  (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Some were so new to the campaign that they had push cards with one side blank.

At times the candidates were handing their push cards and other campaign literature to one another in the search for undecided voters or supporters who were looking for contact and maybe a yard sign.

All of the candidate-to-candidate encounters were friendly. Democratic contender for sheriff Bennie Cobb posed for pictures with Republican contender Dale Lane, who has already won his May primary by virtue of running unopposed. Elsewhere in the room, Cobb’s rival in the May Democratic primary, chief deputy Floyd Bonner, was in search of undecided and unaffiliated voters.

Lane, Bonner and Cobb had the largest and most vocal campaign teams in the room, which is normal for the sheriff’s race. The race is usually hard fought, with deputies within the department spread among the major contenders.

Usually, candidates get a chance to make a brief campaign pitch at such events – at least say their name and what office they’re seeking.

In this case, they got to wave as they walked across a stage as their names were read. The opportunity at this forum was the chance to campaign hand-to-hand with voters.

Four days earlier, a forum for the mayoral contenders hosted by the political action committee Diversity Memphis drew candidates in other races looking for a chance to pass out their literature and shake a few hands or make a few introductions before the main event began.

Sometimes there are more candidates than voters at campaign forums in this election season. And sometimes the amount of campaign literature, like on this table top at a forum held earlier this month by the League of Women Voters and the Tennessee Nurses Association, just makes it seem that way. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

The forum, held at Mt. Moriah East Baptist Church, featured Republican mayoral contenders Terry Roland and Joy Touliatos. The third Republican contender, David Lenoir, was attending a fundraiser for a candidate in another race. Democratic contender Lee Harris, who is also a state senator, was in session in Nashville. Democratic rival Sidney Chism was also attending other political functions.

The crowd of 100 included Democratic partisans in a written-questions-only format – a ground rule that candidates always pay close attention to. And experienced candidates will always have at least one person in the campaign fill out a card with either a softball question for them or a pointed question for the rivals.

Touliatos and Roland were asked for a general opinion on the Black Lives Matter movement – drawing murmurs from the crowd as Roland and Touliatos each in separate answers responded with the phrase “all lives matter.”

“I think all lives matter, but we all deserve to be heard,” Touliatos said. “I don’t see color. I just don’t. I think everybody matters and we all need to be respectful. … We don’t need to see color at all.”

“I know what they are trying to say when they say, ‘Black lives matter.’ I understand where they are coming from,” Roland began. “The good Lord gives life and only the good Lord can take life. That’s probably not the answer you want to hear. … I made the statement one time that all lives matter, and they got mad at me for saying that. But if I’m a Christian, then all lives matter.”

From the crowd, one person answered, “White lives have always mattered. That’s not the issue.”

With a reorganized local Democratic Party, such encounters should be more frequent this campaign season than in recent ones, where Democrats focused on a strategy of turning out the party’s base, which Republicans concede outnumbers them when it turns out.

The problem with the strategy is that in 2010 and 2014, the Democratic base in full didn’t vote or crossed over to vote for Republican contenders in the county races.

On the Republican side, questions about allegiance to President Donald Trump surfaced early on this campaign season as most of the major Republican contenders for governor shared a stage at the annual meeting of the Tennessee Republican Women’s group in Memphis.

All six, including former state Sen. Mae Beavers, who later dropped out, said they support Trump.

Harris, meanwhile, has made opposition to Trump his mantra in the race for Shelby County mayor. An email fundraising appeal Harris’ campaign sent this week says the road to Democratic victory in the November statewide elections for governor and U.S. Senate must pass through Shelby County and its local elections in May and August.

“We can’t win in November without organizing now,” the appeal reads. “We can’t change this nation unless we change what’s happening in our local communities.”

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 6 6 196
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173
BANKRUPTCIES 42 42 795
BUSINESS LICENSES 2 2 331
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0