Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

Internal Bredesen polls say Senate race deadlocked

Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, right, speaks during the 2018 Tennessee U.S. Senate Debate with Democratic candidate and former Gov. Phil Bredesen at The University of Tennessee Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, Pool)

Internal polling by Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen’s campaign suggests the race with Republican Marsha Blackburn remains tight.

According to pollster Garin-Hart-Young, Blackburn had the support of 48% of Tennesseans in two early October polls, while Bredesen had 47%. That’s after more than $20 million in negative attacks aimed at Bredesen or supporting Blackburn. The internal pollster found the same level of support for Bredesen in a September survey, through Blackburn’s support had grown by 3 percentage points since then.

The polling site FiveThirtyEight.com gives Garin-Hart-Young a B-plus rating. The internal Bredesen numbers are at odd with recent public polls that suggest a widening lead for Blackburn (+6 by Fox News, +8 by CBS, +14 by the New York Times).

What does the polling in the Blackburn-Bredesen race mean?

Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen and Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn speak at the 2018 Tennessee U.S. Senate Debate at Cumberland University Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Lebanon, Tenn. (Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean, pool)

Fresh off an online CBS poll that had Republican Marsha Blackburn leading Democrat by 8 percentage points, a New York Times poll showed her with a 14-point lead. But a new fundraising appeal by the Senate Conservatives Fund on Friday puts Blackburn’s advantage at a comparatively paltry 2 points.

So what gives? Is the group led by Ken Cuccinelli II underplaying the advantage held by Blackburn to keep the money flowing? Or are the CBS and NYT polls outliers? As the old saying goes, the only poll that matters is on Election Day. Early voting starts on Wednesday.

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Norris confirmed for federal judgeship in Memphis

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R- Collierville) and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) attend a hearing on open records exemptions in Nashville on Jan. 30, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate on Thursday voted to confirm the long-delayed judicial nomination of state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris. The Collierville Republican now heads to the federal court bench in Memphis. The confirmation vote was 51-44. The chamber also confirmed former federal prosecutor and FBI agent Eli Richardson to a federal judgeship in Nashville.

Here is some reaction to Norris’ confirmation:

I recommended Senator Norris to the president, and I strongly supported Mark’s nomination. He is respected by his peers around the country, having been elected chairman of the Council of State Governments, and has been an advocate and a champion for federalism and for the separation of powers. He is a citizen, a lawyer and a legislator. I have known him for many years — since I was the governor of Tennessee — and I am glad the Senate voted to confirm him today. — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville).

 

“Mark Norris has long been a devoted public servant in Tennessee, and I am pleased he will continue to serve our state as a federal district court judge,” said Corker. “I am confident Mark will faithfully uphold the Constitution and serve West Tennesseans with integrity as he has throughout his terms in the state legislature. — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Chattanooga).

 

As our Senate Majority Leader, Mark has been an indispensable asset not just to the Senate but to state government as a whole. While we will all miss his keen mind, sound judgment and strong leadership in state government, we can take comfort in the fact our federal courts have gained an outstanding judge. — State Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge).

 

Congratulations to Mark Norris for being confirmed as a West Tennessee federal judge.  Mark’s many years of service have made him highly respected throughout the entire state of Tennessee, and I believe he will make an excellent addition to this court. — U.S. Rep. David Kustoff (R-Memphis).

Haslam grants 10-day execution delay to prepare electric chair

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks at a press conference at the state Capitol in Nashville on March 1, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A statement from Gov. Bill Haslam about his decision to grant a 10-day delay in the execution of death row inmate Edmund Zagorski:

I am granting to Edmund Zagorski a reprieve of 10 days from execution of the sentence of death imposed upon by him by a jury in 1984 which was scheduled to be carried out later today. I take seriously the responsibility imposed upon the Tennessee Department of Correction and me by law, and given the federal court’s decision to honor Zagorski’s last-minute decision to choose electrocution as the method of execution, this brief reprieve will give all involved the time necessary to carry out the sentence in an orderly and careful manner.

NRSC says ‘left wing radicals’ want Bredesen to win

A new ad from the National Republican Senate Committee says “left wing radicals” need Democrat Phil Bredesen to win so they can further their agenda in Congress.

“Left wing radicals plan to impeach Brett Kavanaugh. Impeach President Trump. But they have to take Congress to do it,” the ad’s narrator says. “That’s why the radicals are backing Phil Bredesen in Tennessee.”

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Agent in Bredesen ad: Blackburn made it ‘more difficult for DEA to do their job’ on opiods

A retired DEA agent appears in a new ad by Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen’s campaign to criticize Republican Marsha Blackburn for sponsoring legislation that he says hampered law enforcement efforts to combat the spread of opioids.

“Congresswoman Blackburn introduced legislation in the middle of this crisis that’s going to make it more difficult for DEA to do their job,” Jim Geldhof, the ex agent, says in the ad. The industry got exactly what they wanted.”

The ad was released just hours before the final debate between Bredesen and Blackburn in Knoxville on Wednesday.

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Lee, Dean prepare for second of three debates

Bill Lee speaks at a unity press conference in Nashville on Aug. 4, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean are headed into their second of three debates in Kingsport on Tuesday evening.

Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that the pressure is on Dean.

“If you look at the polling, Karl Dean needs to do something in these debates to change the direction of the race,” said Kent Syler, an assistant professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University.

Syler said he looks for Dean “to be aggressive and work to find issues that differentiate him from Bill Lee and also score points with voters.”

The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports that Dean “didn’t clearly dominate the first of three gubernatorial debates” in Memphis las week, and that the former Nashville mayor has been zeroing in on Medicaid expansion.

“Dean’s polling must be showing it’s having some effect because he continues to talk about it and hammer on it,” said John Geer, a Vanderbilt University political science professor.

“There’s still probably a bit of an edge for Dean on this issue — whether it’s enough to transform the race that’s a much bigger and more difficult question to answer.”

Dean was in Jackson on Monday touting his support for broadband, health care and the Memphis Regional Megasite, reports the Jackson Sun’s Adam Friedman:

“My three priorities are public education, public safety and economic development,” Dean said in his opening remarks. “They’re the three pitches you have to hit every day — if you hit them, everything else will take care of itself.”

Taylor Swift endorses Bredesen in Senate race

Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen speaks at a rally in Nashville on Aug. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Superstar Taylor Swift has endorsed Democrat Phil Bredesen’s Senate bid over Republican Marsha Blackburn.

Swift announced her endorsement in a lengthy Instagram post on Sunday, which set of a social media frenzy among supporters and opponents alike. Here’s part of what she said:

As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values. I will be voting for Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives.

Bredesen thanked Swift in a Twitter post:

CBS online poll has Blackburn up by 8 points

Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn speaks at a business forum in Nashville on Aug. 15, 2018 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A new online YouGov poll by CBS News finds Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn leading Democrat Phil Bredesen by 8 percentage points among likely voters in Tennessee, 50%-42%.

The survey was conducted Oct. 2 through Oct. 5 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. YouGov gets a B rating from polling site FiveThirtyEight.com.

In the poll was conducted on the eve of the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, 47% said they would vote to confirm him, while 30% said they wold vote against. Bredesen announced Friday that he would have voted for the confirmation, upsetting some of his more liberal supporters in the process.

The Kavanaugh controversy made 55% of respondents more motivated to vote this year, while 4% said it would make them less so. Forty-one percent said it had no impact.

Among the respondents 61% approved of President Donald Trump’s job performance, while 39% disapproved. Asked what they wanted to see out of their next senator, 25% said they want a conservative who is independent from Trump while another 25% said they want a progressive who is independent from the president. Meanwhile 34% said they want someone who supports Trump as much as they can, while 16% said they are looking for someone who opposes the president as much as they can.

The poll’s sample included 53% who said they tend to vote Republican, 35% Democrats, and 9% independents.

Haslam won’t intervene in Zagorski execution

A statement from Gov. Bill Haslam about death row inmate Edmund Zagorski, who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday:

After careful consideration, I am declining to intervene in the case of Edmund Zagorski, who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1984 by a Robertson County jury for the murders of John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter. Zagorski requests clemency based upon his behavior while incarcerated and juror affidavits obtained nearly 35 years after the trial stating that some jurors would have preferred to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, which was not an option under Tennessee law at the time. While Zagorski has exhibited good behavior during his incarceration, that does not undo the fact that he robbed and brutally murdered two men and attempted to kill a police officer while on the run. Further, while juries today have the option of imposing a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in capital cases, the jury in Zagorski’s case heard the evidence at trial and rendered a unanimous verdict in accordance with the law at the time and their duty as jurors. Ten courts, including the Tennessee Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States, have reviewed and upheld the jury’s verdict and sentence, and the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that the addition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option does not affect previous verdicts.