Commentary: Why Dean believes he has a chance

Feeling sorry for Karl Dean…. don’t, he is about to be made human with the editorial by James Bennett of the Daily Herald and has been endorsed by the Commercial Appeal. He is a strict city socialist and devoted follower of greater government control of both the economy and the development of singular party rule. The cities would love him…. the state not so well.

By James Bennett |  The Daily Herald 

Karl Dean became a grandfather for the third time. The Boston Red Sox won the World Series. And the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis endorsed the former Nashville mayor’s campaign for governor.

By his own assessment, it’s been a good week for Dean as the Democrat sprints to the finish line in his race against Republican Bill Lee.

Dean has been behind by double digits in polls since he won the party’s primary in August, when Lee rallied to defeat a star-studded field of Republicans. The longtime Red Sox fan thinks he’s making up ground with less than a week to go.

“My instincts tell me that momentum has shifted our way,” Dean said Tuesday during an interview at The Daily Herald’s offices in Columbia. “We’re moving up fast. The number of people voting in the state bodes well for us. I think we’re going to win.”

The 63-year-year old Dean’s road to the governor’s chair came through Columbia on Tuesday. He walked around the Maury County Square and visited the county’s Democratic Party headquarters on Hatcher Lane.

The faces around the square might not make for the friendliest crowd he’ll see between now and Election Day on Tuesday. In the last four elections, Maury County has voted heavily in favor of Republicans.

But before you start thinking that Dean took a wrong turn off of Interstate 65, you have to think about what he’s facing against Lee, a Williamson County businessman.

Lee likely will roll up large numbers in rural areas, such as southern Middle Tennessee. Dean will benefit from record voting totals in Tennessee’s two largest cities, Nashville and Memphis, and four largest counties, Davidson, Shelby, Knox and Hamilton.

If Dean can peel off a thousand more votes than expected in Maury County and repeat that performance in the state’s other rural counties, he might surge as much as Lee did in defeating Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, U.S. Rep. Diane Black and state House Speaker Beth Harwell in the GOP primary.

Maury County will continue to be one of the most successful counties in the state, Dean said, no matter which candidate wins.

“You can feel the strength of the housing market just driving through here,” Dean said. “The location is very advantageous, right between Nashville and Huntsville. There’s a lot of things going on in both places, and you’re right in the middle. The economic energy coming out of Nashville will go on for some time and have a positive effect here.

“In addition, Maury County has its own base in terms of the automotive industry that will make the cities [of Spring Hill and Columbia] and county stronger. I think you’ll continue to have a good amount of agriculture here. It is going to be an attractive place for anyone to live in Middle Tennessee.”

Lee has appealed to voters with his aw-shucks, Christian-based, outsider view of politics. In his latest ad, he calls Dean, “A good man and public servant.” But Lee explains that he comes from a different place as a business owner who employs 1,200.

“Clearly, if he is elected governor, he has people around him who are skilled … and highly seasoned politically,” Dean said of Lee. “They had to run the best campaign to win the Republican nomination. I think he has first-rate advisers who will help him.

“One of the problems may be that he thinks getting things done in government is easier than they are,” he added. “He might have a sense that the importance of finding compromise, and the middle ground, might not be as important to him. I don’t criticize anyone’s background of being removed from the public sector. But it’s not going to be as black and white as he sees most issues.”

Dean would have to work with Republican supermajorities in the state Senate and House. Lee would benefit from passing his agenda with like minds on Capitol Hill.

“If you have a majority, and you have a relatively inexperienced governor, you are yielding a lot of power to the legislature,” Dean said. “The new speaker will have a sense of where he or she wants to go. It might not be entirely consistent where Mr. Lee might want to go. It might not be in the state’s best interests.”

Even with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in office for eight years, there were checks in the legislature, Dean said. Factions emerged among the GOP’s elected representatives and senators, featuring tussles between the right and extreme right wings of the party.

“I believe in a two-party system,” Dean said. “Politics works better when you have a little balance, when you have to move toward the middle and compromise. The legislature has some partisan issues, but most of the business deals with what’s best for the state. What is going to bring us a better future, a better life here? The ideological divide is not so extreme.

“My approach would be that there’s a lot that can be done if you’re not worried about who’s going to get the credit,” he continued. “The idea is that we work to do things good for Tennessee. I would be willing to compromise and reach out to them. I have values that I would try and protect, but you have to work together.”

Medicaid expansion and education have been Dean’s signature issues. Haslam and the legislature declined federal Medicaid money to expand health care, costing the state $1.5 billion annually.

“I would want to engage with the legislature on issues related to health care and how we can recover some of those funds,” Dean said. “I want to protect rural and small-town Tennessee from closure and reduced services from hospitals. Those are two big issues.”

In his final months in office, Haslam has wrestled with TNReady and whether it’s is worth the money and headaches. Whoever wins will have to set a course for standardized testing in education.

“I would stick to my priorities,” Dean said. “They are education, health care and jobs.”

The toughest part of the campaign so far has not been negative campaign advertising like in the Marsha Blackburn-Phil Bredesen race for U.S. Senate. Both candidates have stayed positive. Dean says long drives between his home in Nashville and to places in East and West Tennessee have been the hardest on him.

“You have to be tough and grind it out,” Dean said.

Former Maury County Democratic Party Chairman Lynn Nelson said Dean has the experience and ideas to move the state ahead. More than 16,400 Maury County residents have cast ballots during early voting.

“I hope what Dean does in the last seven days is enough,” Nelson said at Tuesday night’s Maury County Democratic Party meeting at Shoney’s in Columbia. “He was a good mayor and would be a strong governor. We’ll see what happens in the next week.”

As far as the last week was concerned, Dean’s Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1 in the World Series. Bredesen used to have a picture of Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski over his desk. Yaz was the last player to win baseball’s Triple Crown, leading the American League in home runs, RBIs and batting average in 1967. Dean named his dog “Yaz.”

“I have been a Red Sox fan since the sixth grade,” Dean pointing out that the Red Sox have won four World Series titles in the last 15 years (2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018).

On Monday, Dean and his wife, Delta, welcomed two more grandchildren. Rascoe and Caroline Dean had twin boys.

“That, of course, is a pretty good thing,” he added.

Before he came to The Daily Herald, Dean learned the Memphis newspaper endorsed him.

“Each man has the potential to be a great governor,” the Commercial Appeal wrote. But given Karl Dean’s more relevant experience and his success as mayor of Nashville, we believe he’s more qualified and better prepared to lead state government.”

Good omens don’t necessarily point to a great finish for Dean. He needs high voter turnout in Nashville and Memphis to have a chance, not good luck.

“I think the big turnout is manifesting itself in the cities, which are the key for me,” Dean said. “I hope in East Tennessee, where Democrats have not done well — sometimes getting only 10 percent of the vote — I will do better. I have to. I believe it will happen.”

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