Monday, October 02, 2006

Report: Wheels Falling Off Corker Campaign

The more the Corker campaign tries to deny that they are losing support with each passing day, the more out of touch they appear.

As the Tennesseean's Larry Daughtery reports, the Corker campaign is in serious disarray:

There's a new political parlor game in town, rivaling the popularity of Mr. Mustard did it with a wrench. It's called: How Bob Corker got in the ditch.

The former Chattanooga mayor's bid for the U.S. Senate, which would appear to be a mortal lock on paper, has gone dramatically off track in the view of almost everyone except hard-core Republican partisans.

As a respectable GOP candidate with a mostly good record in public office, Corker should be breezing toward the finish in a recently red state against a Democrat from a hotly controversial family, Rep. Harold Ford Jr.

But this is a horse race; make no mistake about it. The trends have all been toward Ford, a five-term congressman from Memphis who seems defiant in the face of expectations.

The Ford camp claimed last week that internal polling shows the Democrat has opened a 45 percent to 37 percent lead after moving steadily upward since the August primaries. Internal polls should be taken with a grain of salt, but the Corker camp, tellingly, responded only that its polls show that Corker "is in a strong position to win this race." Later, Corker cited a Zogby poll giving him a 47 percent to 42 percent edge.

In the most recent independent poll, by SurveyUSA three weeks ago, Ford held a 48 percent to 45 percent lead.

So what's gone wrong? Here are a few random guesses:

• President Bush's coattails, which Corker thought he could ride to Washington, have evaporated.

Sure, Bush can shake the money tree among well-heeled Republicans, as he did for Corker in a no-press-allowed soir�e in Memphis last week. But they aren't exposing the guy in public, and that's for a reason.

Bush's popularity has ticked up a little in the last few months, but the same SurveyUSA poll showed that 55 percent of Tennesseans disapprove of the president, while only 43 percent approve. That's a far cry from his landslide win in Tennessee just two years ago.

Ford has tentatively begun to poke at Corker for his allegiance to Bush, suggesting that Corker would be little more than a parakeet for the president in a state that values independence in its senators. Ouch.

• Corker has not recovered from a primary that was more bitter than even a close observer would suspect — a primary in which more than half of GOP voters wanted someone else.

The primary opponents, Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary, have made token gestures of support, but their followers are lukewarm, at best. There are elements in the party who would secretly like to see Corker get his comeuppance.

It's all tied up in the early maneuvering for the 2010 governor's race. Corker is closely tied to the Haslam family in Knoxville, the Pilot Oil folks, as is Sen. Lamar Alexander. If Corker wins, that would give the Haslams a dominant position in the party and perhaps launch Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam toward the governor's office. There are other wannabes out there.

• Corker's credibility has become a subterranean issue, and it's gutted the effectiveness of his negative advertising. His incorrect assertions about the voting records of Bryant and Hilleary in the primary, called lies by some independent observers, have made voters distrustful of all his claims.

Are people finally ignoring the untrustworthy babble of 30-second spots?

Corker may have undermined his best commercial last week, the one where he assures his mom that he reduced crime in Chattanooga by 50 percent. There are plenty of statistics out there to suggest this simply isn't so. The Democrats were quick to pounce with a claim that Corker was caught on film lying to his mother. Ouch again.

• Ford has proved to be tougher and smarter than expected. Tossing a football outside a sorta joint appearance last week, Ford called Corker "a wimp" for dodging more debates. It's only a matter of time until he puts the two words together: wimpy parakeet. Triple ouch. •