Cooper: Bredesen deceptive out of the box

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, front center, campaigns last week in Memphis, Tenn., in his bid for U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Well, that didn't take long.

Only several days removed from a Tennessee gubernatorial campaign in which the two leading Republican contenders beat each other to death with negative and deceptive advertising and allowed a third eminently qualified candidate to win the nomination, Phil Bredesen's Democratic campaign for U.S. Senate showed it was not above such deceptive advertising.

On Monday, the campaign, which had previously employed well-done ads in which the former Tennessee governor talked moderately and said earnestly he was "applying for the job," released a commercial in which some Republicans who don't support him are shown saying kind things about him.

Among the individuals are the current occupant of the U.S. Senate seat he seeks, Bob Corker, and the current 3rd District Congress representative, Chuck Fleischmann.

A third person is former state House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggert.

The idea is to give viewers and listeners the idea that those Republicans are supporting the Democrat for Senate and not Republican Marsha Blackburn. They are not.

Corker previously has said he has sent a financial contribution to Blackburn, Fleischmann in a statement Monday said Bredesen is "wrong for Tennessee," and Maggart said she enthusiastically backs Blackburn.

Maggart, in an email to the Times Free Press, not only said she was not behind Bredesen's campaign but also charged the former governor's campaign "chopped and spliced my sentence together, and my entire point was changed. So much for 'really working across the aisle' when he had to manipulate my point to serve his purpose."

Until now, Bredesen had intoned themes of working with President Trump where they found common ground, of the parties working alongside each other and of ending the rancor in Washington, D.C.

This ad, and so soon out of the gate, shows the campaign has no such motives. National Democrats desperately need to flip the Tennessee Senate seat to have a shot at putting the chamber back in Democratic hands. That's because several Senate seats held by Democrats - Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota - could be won by Republicans in November.

We're under no illusions the Tennessee gubernatorial primary campaign proved once and for all voters would not reward negative campaigning. But we hoped it might give future campaigns pause and the opportunity to find a better way to get their points across.

Frankly, we're also a little bit surprised because Bredesen must win over a lot of Republicans to capture the seat. If Republican voters see that it's just business as usual from a Democrat, that Bredesen is no better than the likes of New York's Sen. Chuck Schumer or Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren or New Jersey's Cory Booker, they may not give him a second look.

We don't have a problem with the Democrat's campaign using advertising featuring any or all Republicans who support it. Bredesen was a good governor, he governed moderately and so there will be some in the GOP who get behind it. There's nothing deceptive about that. But the current ad, and its ilk, makes you want to hold your tongue, lest your complimentary statements wind up in an ad for someone you admire but don't support.

As a mayor and then as U.S. senator, Corker had to work with Bredesen, who was governor during most of his tenure as mayor and four years of his first term as senator - a period in which Volkswagen decided to locate its U.S. manufacturing plant in Chattanooga. Quite naturally, they developed a close friendship, and Corker has said he won't campaign against him.

To us, it feels as if Bredesen is abusing that friendship by using the senator's words against his Republican opponent, but we'll let them work that out.

Fleischmann and Maggart, though, were none too happy with the use of their statements, which were made some time ago and which they thought they had spoken in good faith.

Bredesen "won't represent the best interests of Tennesseans," Fleischmann said in a statement. "I wholeheartedly support Marsha Blackburn for Senate."

He claimed Bredesen had been "personally recruited" by Schumer, the Senate minority leader, secure in the knowledge that no other Democrat would have a shot at winning the Senate seat.

Maggart said she had made her remarks about Bredesen on a weekly political discussion program, mentioning how as governor he had helped fix TennCare, the state's Medicaid pass-through program. However, she told the Times Free Press in a statement that he was able to do some of those things only with Republican support and sometimes without help from his own party.

Asked to respond to the statements from those who felt their words were ill used, Bredesen campaign spokeswoman Alyssa Hansen deflected, saying the ad "summarizes what Tennesseans - Democrats, Republicans and independents - know to be true about Phil Bredesen."

Knowing what is "true" about him as governor and supporting him for Senate are two different things. If this is the tone of the former governor's campaign going forward, the Republicans he needs to win may have seen all they require to make their choice.