Aug 3 2014
06:59 pm

We're four days away from Election Day and one thing is certain: Democrats need to crank it up a few notches if any of our candidates are to have a real chance at winning. I'm not knocking any or all of the things Democrats are doing already, but we've goy to step it up. Democrats have 7 well-qualified candidates in contested general election races on the ballot: Wimberly, Fansler, Price, Kidd, Padgett, Berrier, and Underwood. 8 years ago, both Wimberly and Fansler were so well-respected that they drew no opposition. They are still respected, but the political dynamic in Knox County has drastically changed since 2006.

It has changed even more since 1998, when Democrats swept to victory in a number of hard-fought judicial races, the DA's race, the County Executive race, and other county races. 1998 was a good year for Knox County Democrats (just ask Fansler, Wimberly, Leibowitz, Nichols, and Schumpert). 2006 was not as good, but we still retained a few courthouse seats, stole a commission seat, and almost took more (my brother, Leon, almost beat Tony Norman in the heavily Republican 3rd district).


Something happened in 2004 and after to dampen the Democrats prospects in Knox County and across the state. My guess is it started with the '04 presidential primary. By 2006, though Bredesen won handily against a lackluster GOP opponent, Harold Ford, Jr. suffered a heartbreaking loss to Corker. After that race, Democrats appeared to be deflated all over the state. It's as if we went "all-in" for Junior and had nothing left in '08 or '10 or even '12. And we suffered in Knox County. Aside from Randy Nichols and Mary Beth Leibowitz, who are retiring, Wimberly and Fansler are the only remaining Democrats holding county-wide seats. And although neither should be at risk, both having had stellar judicial careers thus far, they are nevertheless at-risk of losing to, especially in Fansler's case, less than stellar candidates.

Why? Fansler recognized why long ago. Even though he drew an opponent who, for all practical purposes, is a complete joke, and lacks any serious credentials to serve on the bench, it just so happens that Clarence Prideless has an "R" behind his name, and that, my friends, at least in 2014, in a heavily Republican Knox County, means he had to be taken seriously, at least politically. Add to this the unfortunate fact that there are 28 offices on the ballot where no Democrat qualified to run (so the GOP can concentrate all of its efforts on the 7 races where Democrats are running), and the GOP already has a distinct strategical advantage.

Price, though, suffers from not having the benefit of incumbency, but he is, nonetheless, the rock-star of Knox County Democrats. However, Leland never expected to waltz in to the seat Judge Leibowitz has held for 24 years. He knew that if he ran as a Democrat, he'd face Republican opposition. But unlike some, Leland wouldn't budge on his principles, and ran as a Democrat, knowing a hard fight was ahead. And unlike Fansler, Leland drew a credible GOP opponent, Scott Green, who is a very well-respected criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, and a finalist for the judgeship ultimately awarded to Judge Sword.

Unlike most campaigns, judicial candidates are hamstrung by having to run on their resumes. They can't adopt a platform. They can't give an opinion as to how they might rule in any given situation. So, it's about resumes. Randy Nichols told me long ago that voters in Knox County view judicial races a lot differently than they view most partisan races. For the most part, Knox County electoral history has shown that voters want fair and qualified judges. They often ask their lawyer friends about who to vote for, and they are willing to cross over party lines to vote for the more qualified candidate. What Randy told me way back in 1988 held true for many years. But I think we've hit the cross-roads.

In this election, Republican Primary voters are out-voting Democrats 5-1. It might be the Briggs-Campfield race (more likely in the 7th District) or the Alexander-Carr race (less likely) drawing folks to the Republican Primary (Briggs hopes so). And surely, some GOP voters continue to cross over and vote for well--qualified Democrats like Wimberly, Fansler, and Price. But over the past few days, something has been happening out there that scares me and should scare all Democrats.

I pride myself (others do not, I'm sure) on being a fairly knowledgeable observer of the political landscape. What I am seeing is something that had been missing for nearly three weeks of early voting: a serious effort by the most formidable GOP machine in Knox County. By this, I mean the high Sheriff. If you've cruised around town over the weekend, you may have noticed that a large number of Democrat signs have come down. You may have also noticed that the Sheriff's forces are finally out in number. And he is pushing Price's opponent. And pushing him hard. This cannot be good news for Leland Price, or Daryl Fansler, or Harold Wimberly, or Dan Kidd, or Mike Padgett, or Jim Berrier, or George Underwood.

All of this means that Democrats need to amp up their activities over the next four days. The Sheriff has the most formidable political machine in Knox County and he's now going all out for at least one GOP judicial candidate. That means trouble for any Democrat on the ballot. So, whatever Democrats are doing, they need to be doing more. What exactly? I'm not sure, but, although they are few, they are quality candidates, and they are too good a group of candidates not to compel us to fight for every single vote at every single precinct: donate money, make calls to friends, family, and voters, do door-knocking, volunteer to be a poll worker, etc. Latch on to a single candidate (they're all top-notch, so choose one) and commit to work the next 4 days for them like you've never worked before. At least a few of these races will be close, so every hour you can pour in to it matters.

Folks, this is battle for our political survival. We have an opportunity, because of these fine candidates, to start turning things around in Knox County. We'll not have another chance like this for at least four more years. We simply can't wait that long. This is it. We are here. We can create some momentum on August 7, retain Fansler and Wimberly, elect some exceptional candidates, retain our Supreme Court Justices, give Lamar a fight in November, retain two house seats, take back the Senate seat Bill Owen once held, defeat Amendment One, win a non-partisan council race in '15, and give a Democrat presidential nominee a reason to visit here in '16, and get ready for '18.

This is a serious threat and we're at risk of losing our last two judicial seats. We simply cannot let that happen. So, Democrats, we've got 4 days. All of us, or most of us, can work hard for 4 days, can't we?

SnM's picture

I'm curious: You've spent the

I'm curious: You've spent the last several weeks fighting a mean-spirited campaign on this board for one "democrat" against another, and many folks have pushed back against you. (Note: You want to argue your campaign is not "mean spirited." Please don't. Perception is reality.)

Now you deliver a provocative spiel, wherein you present special knowledge that no one else owns - to mostly hardcore Democratic voters, with whom you have traded nasty barbs - exhorting them to go do extra work to get Democrats elected, based on things only you have noticed, even though almost all these folks appear to work hard for various Democratic candidates without any exhortations.

My curiosity is: 1. Did you get paid for placement. 2. Nah, that was mostly it.

UTKDEMS 's picture

On the right track

Don might not be the greatest motivator, but the message is clear, we need to win. This isn't a choice, it's a matter of survival, every lackluster year means the party looses more donors and support. We must maintain our offices at the minimum, and to prove future viability we need to retake some lost ground. We need everyones help, regardless of what Democrat you support, to help get the vote out. We can do this, we have done it in the past, and we can do it again, for the sake of our survival we must.

Knoxoasis's picture

I don't know about the

I don't know about the Green-Price race, but the Sheriff has been very open about his support for Fansler, along with pretty much every other elected Republican official. I'd be very surprised if that has changed.

Pam Strickland's picture

If I was a Democrat running

If I was a Democrat running for anything, I get somebody else to campaign for me. That being said, I do believe that it is very important for Democrats to vote Democratic. I've been saying that all along. Make your votes count.

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