By Tom Griscom
Publisher and Executive Editor
Money is considered the lifeblood of politics.
For the contenders in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, two are about to find out whether that adage holds true.
One challenger in the race, former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, has raised more than twice the amount of his opponents, former Congressmen Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant, combined. The Bryant campaign talks about the “30-second haze of radio and TV ads” from the Corker campaign.
Television and radio spots have appeared across the state for the past four weeks, attempting to build name recognition with a conservative tone for Mr. Corker. Over $1 million later, at least one state media survey showed Mr. Corker moving up in the field with eight weeks to go before the primary election.
Mr. Bryant and Mr. Hilleary knew going into the race that they would be unable to match Mr. Corker’s fundraising prowess. For months both men, particularly Mr. Bryant, have used a number of vehicles —; but not ads —; in an effort to define Mr. Corker.
The Bryant campaign created an Internet site that labels Mr. Corker a “fraud.” A 100-day mark came and went recently, noting the time that has elapsed since Mr. Bryant called on Mr. Corker to explain some actions that have occurred following his tenure as mayor.
Mr. Bryant and Mr. Hilleary somewhat joined hands to take aim at Mr. Corker, labeling themselves as the “real conservatives” in the race and Mr. Corker as a latecomer, if at all, from their standpoint. All three candidates sport the conservative campaign mantle, but the two former congressmen bristle at the Corker campaign’s use of the political handle.
They have criticized Mr. Corker for his abortion position in his 1994 primary race against Sen. Bill Frist and his role as finance and administration commissioner for Gov. Don Sundquist, who pushed for a state income tax that eventually failed.
Spokesmen for the Hilleary and Bryant campaigns place titles on Mr. Corker that typically are reserved for general elections.
“Bob Corker is going to need all of those millions of dollars he’s spending ... in an attempt to cover his liberal record,” said Andrew Shulman of the Bryant campaign.
Jennifer Coxe with Mr. Hilleary said, “By the time primary voters walk into the voting booth on Aug. 3, they will know the real Bob Corker.”
For his part, Mr. Corker states that his positions are “100 percent accurate” and that he must be doing things right to be simultaneously attacked by his primary opponents and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The Democrats focused on the contributions from Pilot Oil Co., which is based in Knoxville and whose chairman, Jim Haslam, serves as the Corker campaign finance chairman.
He also does not apologize for his “disciplined” campaign or resources to communicate “in a mass way.”
Mr. Corker may have taken a play out of the political handbook used by Gov. Phil Bredesen in his successful race in 2002 against Mr. Hilleary. Expecting to be attacked on gun control and other conservative issues, then-candidate Bredesen, a Democrat, moved with a rightward tilt to expand his political base.
In his Senate bid, Mr. Corker hangs on to the conservative tag as if it were a life preserver, making sure neither Mr. Bryant nor Mr. Hilleary grabs the mantle to his exclusion.
Conservative voters are critical in a Republican primary in Tennessee. The question is how to energize and turn out those core supporters with scarce dollars for two of the candidates.
When Mr. Hilleary and Mr. Bryant came out against the Senate-backed immigration bill recently, within hours Mr. Corker echoed a similar position and produced a TV spot.
To offset the paid media blitz by Mr. Corker, Mr. Bryant challenged him to a series of “truth forums” across the state. These media events, requested by the Bryant campaign, are targeted to conservative talk radio shows, provide exposure to potential GOP voters and avoid the expense of paid media. Mr. Hilleary accepted the forum invitation, but the person Mr. Bryant really wanted to snare, Mr. Corker, to date has taken a pass.
While the Republicans joust over conservative credentials, Rep. Harold Ford, a Democratic congressman from Memphis, avoids most of the barbs even though he did catch some heat for a fundraiser hosted by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
To allay the fears of those who are concerned about his votes on energy legislation and for driving an SUV, the Ford campaign released a statement from the National Association of Manufacturers that praised his recent vote on oil and natural gas exploration.
The reason this is noteworthy in an otherwise Republican Senate overview is that the author of the praiseworthy statement about Rep. Ford is the former Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler, who is president of NAM. By now one can be assured that Mr. Engler has been reminded that all is fair in war and politics ... up to a point.
To reach Tom Griscom, call (423) 757-6472 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org