Local Republicans were relieved to see a feisty, but on-message Mitt Romney on stage next to President Obama in Denver. One particularly giddy Republican told me last week it appeared Obama was ready to concede when Romney pinned him on a tax question.
It was the first time in many weeks Romney supporters had reason to be exuberant. Although there hasn’t been a great outpouring of enthusiasm for the Republican ticket, there’s little doubt that Romney will carry Tennessee.
The question, however, is will he be able to better the numbers of George Bush (who won Tennessee by 14 percentage points in 2004) and John McCain (who carried the state by 15 points in 2008).
Tom Humphrey noted in his column last week in the Knoxville News Sentinel that Tennessee Republican Party leaders believe it will be a cinch for Romney to top those numbers. Meanwhile, Humphrey also quoted Democrats who are convinced the GOP ticket won’t even come close to those numbers in November.
Nonetheless, the presidential election is already over in Tennessee, and both candidates know it. Romney will carry Tennessee easily, that’s why he’s spending his time and campaign resources in the neighboring states of North Carolina and Virginia that Obama carried in 2008. The closest Romney has come to our part of the state is Abingdon, Va., where he stumped Friday.
Likewise, the president knows he can’t win Tennessee, so he’s campaigning in North Carolina and Virginia. That’s where Democrats in our area who have volunteered to work for Obama have been asked to spend their time. The closest Obama is likely to come to our little corner of Tennessee is Bristol, Va.
Tennessee has truly become a fly-over state now, and that’s a shame. I recall covering presidential campaigns in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000 that saw both Republican and Democratic candidates spend time in East Tennessee.
Most polls show the November race to be tight, with Obama holding narrow leads in several key battleground states. Republicans have dismissed those polls as biased, much as Democrats criticized a Gallup/New York Times poll in 2004 that found Bush ahead of his challenger, Sen. John Kerry. Those numbers, however, proved to be correct on Election Day.
It’s not the methodology of the polling that concerns Democrats these days. Instead, it’s what they see as the possible disenfranchisement of thousands of Obama supporters by new voter ID laws. With news that a company hired by the GOP in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina to register voters is now under investigation, Dems are sure there will be dirty tricks played on Nov. 6.
“In case you haven’t noticed, the Republican Party has spent the last two years in Tennessee and in states across the nation trying to find ways to suppress the vote this November,” read one email sent last week from the Tennessee Democratic Party.
That may be political hyperbole, but as the 2000 election proved, it’s not wise to concede until all the ballots are counted in Florida.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.