As a talk show host, I take plenty of heat from the fans of candidates who don’t think their candidate is getting enough attention, and if they just had more respect from the media, their candidate could win. Ron Paul fans were legendary for such complaints, and I’ve had more than my share.
So, I find it very uncomfortable, and I hope not hypocritical, to write about the dismissive attitude the national political media is displaying toward the Tea Party driven U.S. Senate bid of State Rep. Joe Carr in Tennessee. Politico.com is the worst offender, with a story about the entry of Dr. George Flinn into the race.
The story reads like a love story from an opponent to Sen. Alexander, without even raising the prospect that the wealthy Dr. Flinn, best known for spending millions of his own money to attract 25% of the GOP primary vote in two separate Congressional elections in two different districts, just might be a Lamar plant to try to up-end a significant, Tea Party endorsed candidate who has attracted donations from more than 3,500 donors in the past six months. Instead, they continue to dismiss the viability of the Carr campaign, and the Tea Party influence in Tennessee, with this:
“But tea party forces have been unable to mobilize against him. State Rep. Joe Carr has been in the race against Alexander for months after dropping a bid for the House, but he has yet to gain traction in the polls or in fundraising.”
Carr, and his Tea Party backers, including me, beg to differ. First, Carr dropped his campaign for the House because Tea Party leaders repeatedly asked him to run for Senate instead. He agreed to “bet the farm” for the Tea Party mission. Second, of course Carr has not raised as much money as Lamar, and he probably won’t. None of us ever expected to win the money campaign against Alexander, who locked up most of the big money donors early, and started exhaling, through friendly media sources, the “air of inevitability” that Politico.com appears eager to spread.
Meanwhile, Carr’s supporters have put together a volunteer network and strategy that doesn’t depend as much on money, which, spent the normal way – on TV ads – costs a lot more per vote than volunteer networking and door-knocking. BeatLamar.com volunteers are knocking on thousands of doors nearly every week, independent of the CarrforTN campaign.
That said, Carr has raised more than a half-million dollars (I’m getting unconfirmed reports of $800,000), and spiked his name recognition from 15% to 43% with one, $40,000 statewide radio campaign along with talks to small groups on his thousand-mile-a-week statewide journey, which will increase after the legislative session ends. Carr still has a job to do until the end of the session. He has a long way to go to win the GOP Senate primary, but to say he is not getting traction is simply ignorant of the facts on the ground, perhaps because Politico.com has never actually been on the ground to see what’s happening.
Carr is on track to raise enough money by June or July to launch a wide and deep air campaign to capture the attention and the votes of the huge block of undecided voters who are already inclined to vote for a genuine alternative to Sen. Alexander, as the latest MTSU poll proved last week. Carr’s internal polling confirms that and more.
In short, Carr is the lone, Tea-party backed, experienced, broadly supported and broadly funded alternative to Alexander, and in time, the national media and the big conservative Super Pacs will come to understand what that means. To dismiss his chances not only underestimates a very serious and effective legislator who has run enough campaigns to avoid the serious mistakes that some rookies have made in the past, it disrespects the Tea Party groups, something the big, national PACs usually do not do.
Carr has made some minor gaffes, like letting a rookie campaign staffer cut and paste parts of some answers to a questionnaire submitted to him by one of many groups. Carr does have an aversion to writing speeches. (there, I’ve told one of his deep, dark secrets). He prefers to give speeches off the cuff, rather than writing the speech and reading them. If he is ever going to take a shortcut, it will be when he’s asked to write something.
Carr and his brother once built, owned, and sold for a nice profit, a business that involves helping private companies use smart meters to reduce energy costs, which bothers some interest groups that think the government will eventually control our energy usage with smart meters – which they might – but that’s not what Joe and his brother did. They helped businesses voluntarily control and reduce their own energy usage, which helped them save money.
Carr doesn’t fit today’s so-called “establishment” Republican mold because his main legislative accomplishment was a series of bills to make illegal immigrants less welcome, not more, in Tennessee. Carr passed the legislation over the objections of many Republican and Democrat leaders, and he has called it the toughest anti-illegal immigration legislation in the country. Still, not all illegal immigration hawks thought the legislation was strong enough. Some callers to my radio program, and a few Tea Party leaders, think Carr compromised too much to get the legislation passed. It’s partly why the Tea Party endorsement of Carr is not unanimous, but the coalition endorsement still represents a large majority of the leadership and membership of the state’s 70 or so Tea Party groups.
I’ve never believed media attention can launch a candidate that doesn’t already have broad-based support, and I still don’t. I do, however, believe that constant, national political media dismissal of a serious, broadly supported, Tea Party candidate either represents ignorance bordering on journalistic malpractice, or it deserves to be highly suspicious of complicity with the Alexander campaign.
The Politico.com story about Flinn “is such a bunch of Lamar spin,” said BeatLamar.com founder Michael Patrick Leahy, in an email. He added, “No mention that Joe has been endorsed by BEAT LAMAR and the coalition of 60 Tea Party groups in the state....Joe is THE Tea Party guy.”
I doubt that Politico is being financially influenced by Sen. Alexander to report as they do about the campaign, but it certainly invites such speculation and accusations. I hope that not only Politico and other political media, but groups like Freedom Works, the Club for Growth and other national Tea Party icons come to realize, while they can still claim some of the credit, that Rep Joe Carr is not only the real deal, he’s is seriously threatening, and has a real chance to defeat Alexander in August - and a lot of people are risking embarrassment when it happens.
No one has grilled Carr more than I on practically every issue known to modern man. He’s been a guest on my radio show about once a week for the past 2-3 years. I’ve grilled him in private, dozens of times. My popular (to my audience), brilliant and very tough wife, Marianna and I both spent two hours cross-examining him on everything from Israel to abortion. Ours is not an easy test to pass, but he passed it. His ethics, principles, passion and intellect are genuine, or I’m a fool.
No one can know another man’s character as well as he knows his own, but I have put my credibility on the line every day for the last seven years in Tennessee, and I don’t lose a second of sleep putting my credibility on the line to vouch for Carr’s commitment to the principles he espouses on the campaign trail, including some that are a higher priority for him than they are for me. Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to the Carr campaign. It is the only campaign I have, or will, contribute to, this year. I have contributed to very few campaigns in the past. I believe I once made a small donation to then congressional candidate Jim DeMint in South Carolina.
As someone who drove through northern Nebraska snowdrifts for two decades, I know how important traction is, how to recognize it, and why it’s important to quit spinning your wheels when you don’t have it. Not only is Carr not spinning his wheels, he is doing exactly what you want to do when you are driving in the snow. You carefully more forward, giving the car only enough gas to slowly move the wheels until you get up enough speed that you can increase the speed and plow your way through the snow drift.
The Carr campaign has traction, and it is moving forward – too slowly for some to recognize – but not for those who know the whole story. It doesn’t help, but it won’t stop him, that some in the political media, under the guise of objectivity, are adding more snow to the snowdrift, and blowing more snow into the eyes of the audience who read their stories.