Monday, October 13, 2008

Town hall voter: "I know Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae"

Remember the town hall questioner Oliver Clark, who John McCain said may not have heard of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before the economic crisis? Well, turns out the senator was wrong, and Oliver wanted people to know:

"Well Senator, I actually did. I like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent person. I have a bachelor degree in Political Science from Tennessee State, so I try to keep myself up to date with current affairs. I have a Master degree in Legal Studies from Southern Illinois University, a few years in law school, and I am currently pursuing a Master in Public Administration from the University of Memphis.

In defense of the Senator from Arizona I would say he is an older guy, and may have made an underestimation of my age. Honest mistake. However, it could be because I am a young African-American male. Whatever the case may be it was somewhat condescending regardless of my age to make an assumption regarding whether I was knowledgeable about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Yours truly on Inside Politics this weekend

Shameless plug for other people's products: I'm on NewsChannel5+ Inside Politics with Pat Nolan this weekend, along with's Ken Whitehouse. We're talking about the Belmont debate and what it could mean for next week's debate in New York and Nashville's potential to host a party convention in the future.

The show airs on Comcast Channel 50 tonight at 7 p.m., Saturday at 5 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and Sunday at 5 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. (it's also on Channel 5 at 5 a.m. Sunday, for all you rabbit-ears users).

Morning Links: Dow keeps dropping; race keeps plodding

This guy finally got his scalp open early this morning.

So the Dow is down 300 today, which is actually only half as bad as yesterday (but give it time!). That's making some Republican supporters angry, especially because they're losing -- heck, even the made-up people are supporting Obama.

Oh, and the Palin trooper report will probably come out today (and it doesn't look good), so the "Palin campaign" released their own report first -- and unsurprisingly, she's cleared of all wrongdoing. Well, I guess that's that.

One final note -- in the time it took me to write this, the Dow dropped 75 points. Now go burn your money.


Barack Obama is taking over your TV, ala Ross Perot -- except maybe Obama will use PowerPoint.

A Medill student tells us to all stop laughing at our politicians. Somebody please tell him we're laughing to keep from crying.

And on that note:

(Photo credit: Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A day of rest

Today I'll be kicking back and doing the kind of things that all people do on a day off, like get their car emissions tested for the third time. In the meantime, feel free to e-mail me about what you'd like to see this blog become now that the debate is over and the election is nearly upon us. Want more election coverage? General politics? Sophomoric humor? Let me know, and I'll tell you what the bosses think. After all, I am both their pawn and yours.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Making some noise

From Tennessean reporter Michael Cass:

Two of the people I interviewed at the Ryman Auditorium after the debate ended last night were Jerry and Jane Armour. Jerry, a psychotherapist, said he was there to observe the crowd as much as anything else. He found the audience "not as excitable as I thought they would be."

"They were pretty civil, and I was sort of proud of 'em," Jerry said.

But while they may have been on good behavior, the people at the historic venue got to make a lot more noise than the town-hall audience under the watchful eyes of Tom Brokaw and the Commission on Presidential Debates (though those folks did make their feelings known in quieter ways).

"I think we had more fun here than they did at the Curb Center," said Jerry's wife, Jane, a Belmont alumna. "It was a great experience. We could react over here."

Hatin' the players and the game

Worst debate ever? McCain demands that you take it back. Take it back!

Was Tuesday's non-answer fest really the worst debate ever? Politico says yes. I say that at the rate these guys are going, just wait until the next one. (And -- while not presidential -- has anyone forgotten this mostrosity?)

(h/t Michael Cass; photo credit Billy Kingsley/The Tennessean)

The world is over: Politics beats football in Nashville

"Those awards are great, Al, but let's see you shake off Ray Lewis."

The preliminary TV ratings are in this morning, and woe to competing cable programming: the debate scored a whopping 57.7 in the area, equivalent to 586,405 homes according to our friends at NewsChannel5. In comparison, the first debate scored a 40.6 (412,618 homes), and last week's VP debate hit 53.0 (538,639).

The debate rating knocked off the previous local high of the past decade: the 2003 AFC Championship Game between the Titans and the Oakland Raiders, which scored a 54.7. I just wish Nielsen conducted a viewer satisfaction poll, because I'm pretty sure both programs would score lower than last week's Project Runway.

(Photo credit: Larry McCormack/The Tennessean)

Morning Links: The morning after

The debate is over, and the scorecards are in: both guys did OK. All of the headlines are about the economy, of course -- although does it say something about us when we think it's important they didn't screw up that much? (P.S. They did both stretch the truth, with McCain outpacing Obama.)

So now what happens? Well, the massive tear-down process begins at Belmont, which normally would take half the time as the setup without our newfound floodwaters. The school will have to totally re-sod the soccer field where the media tent sits, and classes will start back tomorrow.

And as for the candidates, they'll be at Hofstra University one week from today for their final debate, this time on domestic policy. Maybe by that time, the economy will have hit rock bottom.


Tom Brokaw wasn't taking any guff, although some thought he came off a little rude.

(Photo credit: Billy Kingsley/The Tennessean)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Channel Phil: Debate doesn't provide real answers

The Governor has spoken:

Debate links galore

Tonight's debate was a fairly generic affair, and if even the spinsters agree on that point, then it must be true. But if you're really in an argumentative mood, then look no further than your Average Joes.

I'll try to write a more thorough recap tomorrow, but for now, you can check out my debate day in review here and my debate night in review here.

ALSO: Check out debate photos here.

(Photo credit: Billy Kingsley/The Tennessean)

What I saw from my seat

Tuesday’s presidential debate at Belmont University was a carefully orchestrated affair, one that provided limited interaction between the candidates and the town hall audience that was intended to make this event a barometer of what the nation wants from its next president.

But from inside the Curb Event Center, there was an audience that was unafraid to react to candidates’ responses, or their lack thereof – something that didn’t always show up on camera.

In addition to the chuckles moderator Tom Brokaw drew when he repeatedly addressed time constraints on candidate responses, reactions from audience members ranged from holding head in hands to chuckling at candidates’ responses and squabbles.

Those reactions might have been even less subdued had it not been for the freezing temperatures in the debate hall, which had many audience members wrapped in shawls and suit jackets as they blew into their hands throughout the debate. Staff member from the Commission on Presidential Debates warned reporters that the hall would be about 65 degrees, but the hall could have been 10 degrees cooler easily.

Before the debate, many audience members tried to see how many national political figures they could pick out of the crowd seated directly below the network camera platform. Al and Tipper Gore received special recognition from the CPD and were treated to a standing ovation. Other notable guests included former Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson, who chatted it up with Mitt Romney, another Republican hopeful this year, seated in the row behind him. Former Titan Eddie George had a prime seat next to the Gores.

After the cameras turned off, Sen. Barack Obama and wife Michelle stayed on the debate floor, chatting with town hall members while taking photos and signing autographs. Sen. John McCain shook hands with some town hall members immediately after the debate had concluded before leaving the debate floor.

(Photo credit: Larry McCormack/The Tennessean)

One final note

Folks, I'm going to be leaving you now, but don't despair: Check out for news and continual updates during the debate.

Oh, and one final note: If anyone ever tells you that a local blog never did anyone any good, you can always point to yours truly as a shining example.

Because I'm headed to the debate hall.

The Belmont 300

The final tally on student tickets to the debate: 300, according to Belmont President Bob Fisher. That's only six times as many as the school thought they would receive.

"We lobbied hard, and the [Commission on Presidential Debates] really pushed the limits for us," Fisher said.

(Those students include my brother, but I'm already over it.)

Belmont also invited 40 VIPs, Fisher said, although he later regretted calling them as such. "If anyone asks, they were number 42," Fisher said.

Among those VIPs I've been told so far are definitely in the hall: Gov. Phil Bredesen, Belmont uber-donor Mike Curb ... and Ludye Wallace.

Ludye Wallace rides again

The local politicos will appreciate my sighting today of former Metro Councilman Ludye Wallace, who was hanging out talking to folks (and making out-of-towners a little uneasy, from the looks of things) in the Pick's Political Buttons booth during Belmont's block party.

Wallace, who embodied the phrase "sly as a fox" during his time in the Metro Council, was dressed in a large t-shirt and jeans -- but he was getting ready to get scrubbed up. "I know one person who's going to the debate," he said. "Me."

When I asked how he got a ticket, he laughed and said he just got lucky. Lucky as a fox.

More information about the debate than you want

Make sure you check out the #nashdebate Twitter feed today for (literally) up-to-the-minute updates on where the candidates are and the little things here. But come back here!

McCain arrives for rehearsal; Obama expected soon

A little bit of old news, but McCain arrived a couple of hours ago for his rehearsal in the debate hall; Obama's expected to be here in about a half-hour. Click here for more.

P.S. The media tent is still pretty empty:

What the town hall-ers should expect

Here's a little bit of leftover video from yesterday with Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates. Brown addresses what the town hall folks will go through today, and how the economy could dominate the conversation (for more, check out our YouTube page):

A quick moment of jealousy

Belmont University began notifying students last night who had been drawn in the ticket lottery, and the number of tickets available ended up being much larger than the 50 or so that the school initially expected – even though spokesman Greg Pillon said the school still doesn’t know how many there are.

I had heard of students getting tickets with numbers as low as 184, but then I got a call from my brother, a junior at Belmont (to be clear, I don’t use him as a source, either on or off the record). He had a debate ticket somewhere in the 240s – or worse – and was practically guaranteed to be on the outside looking in.

Well, he’s in. And I’m stuck in the media tent. Come on!

Your reading material, Mr. Brokaw

The Commission on Presidential Debates assured us yesterday that moderator Tom Brokaw would be reading all of the questions submitted through the Internet in order to choose a select few. Well, I hope he can speed-read, because he has six million.

Morning Links: D-Day

It's here
, it's here, it's finally here! It's Debate Day, and I'm getting ready to dive into the campus for the day/afternoon/evening/night (and I would be there earlier, except my computer decided to die on me this morning). But what, pray tell, are our fine Middle Tennessee voters going to talk about? Well, at least one of them wants to know about nuclear proliferation (second item down), but I'm betting that little tanker known as our economy could spark a few questions.

Anyway, if the rain holds off, you'll have plenty of debate-related events and watch parties to attend today. I suggest hitting the Belmont block party early and stopping by the news outlets during the afternoon, and then cruising (or, if you're near Belmont, walking) through the different watch parties.


On the day of the debate, our own Clay Carey profiled Tennessee's politics in USA Today

Did you wake up before the crack of dawn to see John Rich? Me neither -- but my colleague Anne Paine did, and so apparently did a lot of Obama supporters. I bet that made him happy.

(Photo credit: Billy Kingsley/The Tennessean)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Red State Update doesn't need your fancy town hall

The boys at Red State Update had their debate credentials revoked by the Secret Service, and they’re mad as hell about it.

“I don’t know what kind of threat we are to national security,” said Jackie Broyles, who along with partner-in-crime Dunlap will be putting on a show at the Belcourt Theatre at 9:30 p.m. tonight. “You’ve got McCain the Manchurian Candidate and Obama palling around with all the terrorists, so you would think Dunlap and me would be somewhere in there, but I guess not.”

Jackie said tonight’s debate will feature everything a town hall debate should have, including puppets. The pair said they may watch tomorrow’s “real” debate, but they’ll do so begrudgingly.

“I guess we’ll have to look at some of it, if we can stay awake through it,” Jackie said. “They wouldn’t let us in there, and McCain don’t even want to go to them!”

(By the way, Jackie’s fighting to replace McCain with Palin tomorrow – “she’s better than Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell sisters,” he said.)

Unlike tomorrow’s debate, tickets for tonight’s town hall are available to the general public (for an $8 fee). Prepare to see the First Amendment stretched to its limits.

She'll show you: Town hall participant threatens to vote for Nader

East Nashville resident Laura Clifford wanted to be a part of the town hall debate pretty badly, especially when she heard a report about how the audience would be selected one night last week.

Less than an hour later, Clifford got her wish.

Clifford, 61, received a call from the Gallup Organization asking for the youngest male in her household, and then the oldest woman. When the voice on the other line asked who Clifford was voting for, she said she was leaning toward McCain — but her willingness to be swayed to Obama is what got her a seat on the debate hall floor.

“I don’t really fit either place,” Clifford said. “My tendencies are more toward Democratic things except for the pro-life issue, and I’m strongly pro-life, so that throws me strongly to the Republicans.”

Clifford said her vote lies mainly with her pro-life stance, which for her also includes her position against the death penalty, support for stricter gun control and a desire for limited military involvement abroad.

Despite all of that, however, she said she’s thinking about submitting a question about when the candidates would intervene in Iran if it began to make strides toward nuclear weaponry.

Clifford said she's as excited to meet moderator Tom Brokaw as she is to meet the candidates, who might have to work extra hard for her vote. After all, she said, she could just decide not to vote for either of them.

“I’m thinking about voting for Ralph Nader as a protest vote,” she said.

PETA v. KFC: Who cares about us more?

The PETA people were cruising around Belmont this afternoon with a volunteer in a giant pig costume, calling for a 10 percent tax on meat because of its implications on global warming (I didn't bring up what their Ford Mustang's emissions were doing to the environment). Check it out:

But then I receive an e-mail in my inbox from KFC (who draws a special kind of PETA ire) saying the company will donate $20,000 to world hunger relief if one of the candidates mentions it tomorrow night (which means one of the town hall participants has to bring it up, right?). So, America, I put the question to you: who cares about you more, PETA or KFC? (Or neither. You could also vote neither.)

Media blitz: Gov. Phil Bredesen on the debate

Below, see Gov. Phil Bredesen's comments on how he thinks Middle Tennesseans will impact the debate, and why he's even less of a fan of Gov. Sarah Palin:

CPD co-chairman on Nashville

Commission on Presidential Debates co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf talked this morning about Nashville and what he expects from town hall participants Tuesday. You can check out more at

Inspired by maverick families ready to bring the troops home? Bingo!

A local radio station encourages you to catch the buzzwords tomorrow night (look familiar? It should.).

Dean: Debate could cost Nashville $500K

Watch Karl Dean as he says the debate could end up costing Nashville taxpayers more than $500,000:

Just a reminder: Voting registration deadline today

Do your patriotic duty and register.

Inside the debate hall

Here's a sneak peek inside the debate hall this morning, with Belmont volunteers serving as mock town hall participants. The best question I heard: "Are you allergic to shellfish?"

(When the camera pans to the right, you'll see a glimpse of Bill Schneider of CNN.)

Morning Links: Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome one and all, to the media circus that will soon become Belmont University. Everyone seems happy and smiling this morning, although that could just be delirium. I'm camped out in the Media Filing Center (aka gargantuan tent) this morning amidst a sea of empty chairs, wondering who's going to be sitting on either side of me later today. I'll let you know if I meet anyone from the Fiji press, or if CBS' Bob Schieffer strolls in with his guitar slung over his back.

Shameless plugs: Here's where you need to go for debate watch parties, what to watch for from the candidates, and where to go for everything else. I will link to these pages 435,000 times in the next two days.

In Political-land, which voters are important: young or old? Apparently both! Why? Because they're both broke, and Obama wants to blame McCain for it. (Although apparently Hillary Clinton is still finding money.)

One final note: After all these "new Ole Miss" stories, there seems to be quite a dearth of "new Belmont" stories. Maybe tomorrow?

(Photo credit: Alan Poizner/For The Tennessean)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Demonizing GOP isn't enough, Bredesen tells Dems

From Jordan Schrader of our sister paper, the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Sen. Barack Obama offered up plenty of red meat for a crowd of Democratic Party faithful tonight in Asheville, N.C. But Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, keynote speaker at the annual Vance-Aycock dinner in the Land of the Sky, struck a conciliatory tone.

Bredesen urged Democrats to do more than demonize the GOP.

"That road doesn't go to the right place, and walking it is a disservice to what America needs from our party right now."

The party must stop "just being against whatever the Republicans have failed at recently."

He called on the party to help Obama, should he become president: "Barack Obama is an inspired leader, he's an inspiring leader, but no one can tackle these problems alone."

The nominee made a surprise appearance at the $100-a-plate dinner, the North Carolina Democratic Party's annual fundraiser named for two former Democratic governors.

“I hope you don’t mind me crashing the party,” Obama told the crowd of 700-plus at the Grove Park Inn.

He slammed Republicans for “foreign policy that’s all about talking tough and acting dumb,” and “energy policy that is no policy, that goes around saying ‘Drill, baby, drill’ but refuses to invest in” renewable energy.

With polls showing Obama tied with Republican Sen. John McCain in a state that no Democratic presidentian candidate has carried in three decades, he told the audience their work was paying off.

Gov. Mike Easley called Obama a “regular, good guy.”

“He grew up in Hawaii. I just want you to know, ‘Barack’ is Hawaiian for ‘Bubba,’” Easley told the laughing crowd.

Obama is in Asheville to prepare for Tuesday's debate in Nashville.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Let the media apocalypse begin

And lo, they came upon us, with their buses and their enormously large satellite dishes sticking out of them:

(Taken on Belmont's campus around 4:30 Friday)

Rich, Turner to play for CBS at Belmont

I'll tag-team with my friends at Nashvillest on this one: John Rich of Big & Rich will play on CBS' The Early Show from the Belmont Mansion Tuesday morning, and they're more than happy to invite Belmont (and Vandy) students to the mansion at 5:30 in the morning.

But hey, if you can't make that, maybe you'll be more interested in Belmont alum Josh Turner, who will be showing up Wednesday morning at the mansion with the same CBS folks. Heard of anyone else showing up? You know what to do.

MTA route changes for Debate Day

From colleague Jenny Upchurch:

Beginning at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7, and continuing throughout the rest of the day, Route 2 Belmont will be on detour because of the Town Hall Presidential Debate. The detours are as follows:

• 2 Belmont – From downtown: At 17th Avenue and Magnolia, the bus will continue right on Magnolia, left on 21st Avenue, left on Blair and right on Belmont to the regular route.

• 2 Belmont-7 Hillsboro Night Service – From downtown: At 21st Avenue and Wedgewood, the bus will continue on 21st Avenue, left on Blair and right on Belmont to the regular route.

For more information, please call MTA Customer Care at (615) 862-5950 weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Make it a no-chores weekend

As mentioned earlier today, tomorrow will be one crazy day in Nashville. Take a look at what's going on tomorrow and take your pick:


Al-Menah Shrine Circus

When: 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (also shows on Friday and Sunday)

Where: Municipal Auditorium

Cost: Tickets $10-$15

Web site:

Bluegrass Fan Fest

When: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Where: Nashville Convention Center

Cost: $90 3-day tickets; single-day ticket $50 for adults, $30 for students with valid ID, children under 16 free

Web site:

Declaration of Independence viewing

When: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Where: Nashville Public Library

Cost: Free

Web site:

First Tennessee Free Day at the Frist

When: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Where: Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Cost: Free

Web site:

Regions Free Day Of Music featuring the Nashville Symphony

When: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Where: Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Cost: Free

Web site:

Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure

When: Registration starts at 7 a.m., race starts at 9 a.m.

Where: Starts at Demonbreun and 3rd Ave. S, runs through Music Square East and West and ends at Broadway and 3rd Avenue.

Cost: $40 participation fee

Web site:


ESPN College GameDay

When: 7 a.m. – 11 a.m.

Where: The Commons, Vanderbilt campus

Cost: Free

Web site:

Auburn-Vanderbilt football game

When: 5 p.m.

Where: Vanderbilt Stadium

Cost: Sold out

Web site:

Belmont-Hillsboro Neighbors Tour of Homes

When: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Where: Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood

Cost: $10

Web site:

Celebration of Cultures Festival

When: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Where: Centennial Park

Cost: Free

Web site:


Free Day at Cheekwood

When: 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Where: 1200 Forrest Park Drive

Cost: Free

Web site:

Photo of the Day: Serenading the Carousel

Belmont student Taylor Begert performs in the baggage claim area of Nashville International Airport Friday afternoon. Belmont students and faculty are performing in the airport today as media members and campaign officials are expected to arrive for Tuesday's presidential debate.

How to get on TV Tuesday

So after all of the e-mails I have received about tickets to the debate (There are none! Zero!), here's an offer to the next best thing -- a chance to get your mug on local (and maybe even national) television! Belmont is holding a block party on the afternoon of the debate, and you and you and you are invited. We'll be there, the local affiliates will be there, and Chris Matthews will be hosting two episodes of Hardball after getting punted (along with Keith Olbermann) from anchoring MSNBC's election coverage. That just means you can hear him yell up close! (Click the image to enlarge the poster.)

We like our political TV in these parts

Nashvillians, be proud: we're doing our democratic duty by plopping down in front of the TV for the debates (and apparently, we were 30 percent more interested this time around). From our friends at NewsChannel5 via e-mail:

"The combined ratings for latest night’s Vice Presidential debate in Nashville scored a local rating of a 53.0. That is equivalent to 537,747 local homes.

The combined ratings for the first Presidential debate on September 26th was a 40.6, equating to 412,293 local homes.

The combined rating was achieved by taking the combined ratings of 8 sources (WTVF, WSMV, WKRN, WZTV, PBS, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC."

Remember, we had the fifth-highest percentage of viewers for the first presidential debate (at least in the prelim ratings). Now we just need to beat Memphis.

Morning Links: VP candidates meet low expectations

Sounds like the verdict is in from last night's vice-presidential debate: not terrible! Both had their slip-ups and their misleading statements, but Republicans seemed satisfied that Palin didn't bonk, and Democrats seem satisfied she didn't soar. Best line of the night goes to Biden's "Bridge to Nowhere" comment; Dems seemed so happy that it's already an ad!

I was at the Lipscomb University debate watch party last night, and while not there as an official journalist-type, there were some pretty interesting reactions from the crowd via their clicker-vote system. A few mental notes:

After the debate, the split was down the middle as to who won the debate. I believe McCain-Palin had about a 6-point lead among the voters (about 75) after the debate, which is probably in line with the traditionally conservative campus.

One of the more lopsided votes: viewers went 80-20 for Biden on who they though has better foreign policy knowledge. On domestic policy, they went 51-49 Palin.

It should be noted that both before and after the debate, the vast majority of voters said that the debate would have no effect on who they voted for. Sounds about right.

And in perhaps the most thought-provoking vote, viewers were asked of the four candidates who they felt was most like themselves. The leaders? Sarah Palin ... and Joe Biden. Each received about a third of the vote.

(Photo credit: Rick Wilking/Associated Press)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Just a reminder: Debate parties tonight

The vice presidential debate between Democratic candidate Sen. Joe Biden and Republican candidate Gov. Sarah Palin begins at 8 p.m. tonight.

Lipscomb University
Where: Shamblin Theatre, Lipscomb campus (3901 Granny White Pike)
When: 8 p.m.
Contact: 966-6494

Tennessee Democratic Party
Where: TN Obama ’08 Campaign Headquarters, 907 Rosa Parks Blvd.
When: Doors open at 5 p.m.; party begins at 6:30 p.m.
Contact: 244-1244

Tennessee Republican Party
Where: Limelight, 201 Woodland Street
When: Doors open at 6 p.m.; tickets are $10 in advance and $20 at the door (must be 21 and older)
Contact: 269-4260

Williamson County Democrats Potluck Dinner
Where: UAW Local 1853, 125 Stephen P. Yokich Pkwy., Spring Hill
When: 6:30 p.m.
Contact: Todd Sharp, 790-3659

The devil's in the details

From colleague Michael Cass:

Bill Phillips has been around a big political event or two.

Phillips, 64, managed the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in 1988. Last month the former Republican National Committee chief of staff — who also worked in President George H.W. Bush’s administration — helped maintain order backstage at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Phillips, who was Nashville’s deputy mayor from 1999 to 2007, has had a consulting contract with Belmont University since January to help the school get ready for Tuesday’s presidential debate. He sat down over coffee with a Tennessean reporter this week to talk about preparations for the university’s and city’s moment on the national stage.

Click here to read the full story.

Fisher watching everything around tonight's debate

I'll be a little AWOL this afternoon as I work on one of those paper-edition stories, but I'll leave you for now with some comments from Belmont President Bob Fisher on the school's final preparations for the debate. You can see more from my interview with him at our YouTube page.

Road closures for the debate

Courtesy of Metro Police and my friends at Nashvillest, here's what you'll be looking at as you try to navigate Debate Day:

A number of streets in the Belmont vicinity will be closed in order to enhance security. The following street closures will be in effect Tuesday between 4 p.m. and 12 midnight:

  • Belmont Boulevard from Compton Avenue to 18th Avenue South;
  • Bernard Avenue from 15th Avenue South to Belmont Boulevard;
  • Acklen Avenue from 18th Avenue South to the entrance of the Fidelity Hall parking lot;
  • 15th Avenue South from Compton Avenue to Wedgewood Avenue;
  • Acklen Avenue from East Belmont Circle to 15th Avenue South will be closed from 4 p.m. Monday through 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Also, you can check out a Belmont map of the closings here.

Early lunch links: Biden and what's-her-name debate tonight

I don't know if you've heard, but tonight there is the Vice Presidential Debate feat. Gov. Sarah Palin. Oh, and that Joe Biden guy is showing up, too! On PalinWatch, Nashvillians sure are interested, reporters are being blamed for her slips, and independents are playing the skeptics. And Baptists? Well, they're not quite sure what to do about her.

And the general consensus: The winner of tonight's debate will be the candidate who screws up less. Didn't the campaigns have months to pick these two?


The Senate OK'd a revised, "sweetened" (earmarked?) bailout plan, and the Dow still dropped 200 points this morning. Doh!

(Photo credit: Associated Press)

Belmont opens its doors today

Belmont has its Open House for students, faculty and the community at the Curb Event Center until noon today. Come by if you want to see where the candidates will be (although the stage doesn't get here until tomorrow) and the gargantuan media tent where all the media types like me will be hanging out on debate night. C-SPAN also has an exhibit up on all of the presidents. You'll remember that at one time, we had a president named Chester. Maybe it will make you feel better.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gore fundraiser may convince Obama to stop by

From colleague Theo Emery:

Al and Tipper Gore may finally get the chance to open the doors of their home to Sen. Barack Obama.

On the night of Tuesday’s debate at Belmont University, the former vice president is hosting a $2,500 per person/$5,000 per couple, “post-debate dessert reception” at the Gore residence, according to a copy of the invitation.

The event benefiting the Obama Victory Fund is clearly intended for deep-pocketed donors. The invitation specifies that the first $2,300 each individual contribution will go to the Obama for America fund. The next $28,500 of each person’s contribution, the invitation says, will go to the Democratic National Committee.

The reception is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. There’s talk in Democratic circles that Obama may come by after the debate, but there was no word from the campaign on Wednesday afternoon that that was the case.

Over the summer, the Gores had set in motion tentative plans for a Nashville fundraiser for Obama, but the efforts sputtered until now.

Obama’s arrival in Nashville for the debate will mark the first time that he has made a public appearance in Tennessee in over a year.

Polls have generally put McCain ahead of Obama by a wide margin in Tennessee; the most recent, a Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of 500 likely voters, gave John McCain at 58 percent to 39 percent edge over Obama, a 19-point lead. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Belmont students rocking at the airport

As mentioned previously, Belmont students and faculty will be playing at Nashville International Airport as guests arrive from Thursday's vice presidential debate in St. Louis. Here's the lineup, just in case you know these fine talents:

Friday, October 3, 2008

Baggage Claim Stage Area:

Stephen Duncan
Taylor Begert

Greg Bates
Brooke Annibale

Stephanie Lambring
Blake Mundell

Concourse C Stage Area:

Southbound Ensemble
Henry Smiley, Director

Burns: "We forget to select for wisdom"

Documentary historian Ken Burns stuck around for another day in Nashville and stopped by for a media Q&A after a lecture with students. I’m wondering if maybe we should be electing him, instead:

“We’re at a crossroads of incredible danger, not only from the outside, but from the inside, with our economic situation. This is no time for people to choose those who aren’t really serious and (don’t) know what we’re talking about.”

You can see more with Burns at

Vice presidential debate watch parties

The vice presidential debate between Democratic candidate Sen. Joe Biden and Republican candidate Gov. Sarah Palin begins at 8 p.m. Thursday. PBS correspondent Gwen Ifill will moderate the debate. Here's the list I have so far; if you know of a watch party, e-mail me at

Lipscomb University
Where: Shamblin Theatre, Lipscomb campus (3901 Granny White Pike)
When: 8 p.m.
Contact: 966-6494

Tennessee Democratic Party
Where: TN Obama ’08 Campaign Headquarters, 907 Rosa Parks Blvd.
When: Doors open at 5 p.m.; party begins at 6:30 p.m.
Contact: 244-1244

Tennessee Republican Party
Where: Limelight, 201 Woodland Street
When: Doors open at 6 p.m.; tickets are $10 in advance and $20 at the door (must be 21 and older)
Contact: 269-4260

Photo of the Day: Postcards to the President

Performance artist Sheryl Oring takes dictation from Belmont senior Kara Reynolds on Wednesday concerning what she would say to the next president. Oring, who has collected about 400 such postcards so far, will mail the postcards to the next president after the election. Reynolds' postcard: "Dear Mr. President: Please make good choices. ... P.S. Please ask President Clinton to play saxophone on my next album."

Greeting campaigns with a smile and a mohawk

Belmont junior Jonathon King will be one of the more visible student volunteers for the debate, and the reason should be fairly apparent: he rocks one awesome mohawk.

King will be one of the first faces the campaigns see Tuesday as he greets arriving guests at the Gordon E. Inman building. Looks like Belmont's bringing back shock and awe tactics.

McCain event at Riverfront canceled

A watch party and post-debate event for John McCain at Riverfront Park was canceled by the campaign last night, meaning the candidate won’t be showing up on Lower Broadway after his Belmont appearance.

The cancellation came directly from the campaign, which said the appearance wouldn’t work with McCain’s schedule, said state Rep. Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), co-chair for McCain’s Tennessee campaign.

“We had moved it to the convention center, but it has been canceled,” Harwell said. “The campaign said he wouldn’t be able to do it.”

A Mississippi group had applied for a permit from Metro Parks on behalf of the McCain campaign in late August for “a large scale video presentation of the televised debate from Belmont University,” according to the application.

“The event will also likely have a musical act immediately following the debate and before the appearances of Senator John McCain,” the application read.

The fee for using Riverfront Park for such an event is about $1,000 per day.

What's in the bag

It's no secret that the most important question to media members during the debates is "What swag are we getting?" So, dear national media colleagues, here is a rundown of what you'll see in your goodie bag next week:

- Belmont University Debate08 T-shirt
- Chicago Climate Exchange certificate from Polar Technology to offset carbon emissions from flying to Nashville
- USB drive with information on the debate, attached to a Porridge Papers seed tag that contains wildflower seeds (the card itself can be planted ... wonder if Belmont has been using these on its campus?)
- Bottled water (not so green)
- Moon Pie
- Goo Goo Cluster
- M&Ms
- Tennessee Tea Cake
- Hatch Show Print commemorative debate print (probably the coolest thing in the bag)
- HCA pen and notepad (not suitable for writing prescriptions)
- Nashville tourism guide
- Christmas at Belmont DVD
- Various Belmont promotional material, including a card for Bob and Judy Fisher's book, "Life is a Gift"
- Macy's savings pass
- Debate08 and "Nashville" pins
- Debate programming guide
- Various sponsor brochures

What do you think should have been included? I could definitely have used some Yazoo brew, but I'm guessing Anheuser Busch would have nixed it.

Morning Links: It's beginning to look a lot like Debate Day

We're less than a week out from the presidential debate here, and it's getting pretty obvious. This banner was going up outside the Curb this morning, the security fence is snaking its way down to Belmont Boulevard, and there are now bathrooms on the tennis courts. Belmont President Bob Fisher has been waiting eight years for this day, and unless the candidates decide they have to rush back to Washington again, it looks like it's going to happen.

Outside Nashville, debate news centers on tomorrow's VP tangle, and as expected, Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin is getting most of the attention. Meanwhile, anybody hear about moderator Gwen Ifill, who'll be gaming through the debate with a broken ankle? Give her a Klondike bar.


Gov. Bredesen tells everybody to stop all their bickering.

Billy Joel and The Boss know who they're voting for.

Mason-Dixon gives McCain a 16-point lead in Tenn., but Quinnipiac says Obama is surging in the battleground states.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bredesen to host civility forum

Gov. Phil Bredesen thinks political candidates sling too much mud these days, and he intends to do something about it.

Bredesen and First Lady Andrea Conte, along with former Sen. Howard Baker, will host a forum on civility in politics on Oct. 6, the day before the Belmont debate. It’s a topic Bredesen addressed in a similar forum in January.

“I’ve always been a believer that people who run for office, whether they have D’s or R’s after their names, are all Americans,” Bredesen said. “I understand it’s a contact sport, and you throw some punches, but I think that many times it has gotten way out of hand and very, very personal.”

Panelists at the forum will include Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman; Bill Nichols, Politico managing editor; former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), president of the Association of American Publishers; and Mark Whitaker, senior vice president and Washington bureau chief for NBC News.

Former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw — perhaps best known for his question on the death penalty that helped sink Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential race — will moderate the forum.

The forum, which is free and open to the public, will be at 1 p.m. at Belmont’s Troutt Theater.

As for the debate itself, Bredesen said he hoped Barack Obama would come out swinging — but at his opponent’s policies.

“I hope to see specifics of his own, explaining the way he wants to conduct the presidency,” Bredesen said. I would love to see hard-hitting criticisms of Senator McCain’s decisions. I would not want to see criticisms of Senator McCain as an individual.”

Photos of the Day: Trailer toilets come to town

Only in Tennessee could we consider toilets in trailers high-class. The debate bathroom facilities -- known as "crowd pleasers" for reasons I don't know -- are now parked on a few of Belmont's tennis courts, and I ask that you please remind me to never, ever play there when this is all over.

Honestly, they're really not that bad. They're like your typical politician: they look kinda nice on the outside, but on the inside, they're pretty average.

Historian Ken Burns comes to Belmont tonight

One more reminder before I go into my writing cave: Documentary historian Ken Burns will give a lecture on American storytelling tonight at Belmont’s Massey Performing Arts Center.

Burns, probably the country’s most recognized historian, has studied American topics ranging from the Civil War to baseball to jazz music. His most recent documentary, The War, is a massive retelling of the events of World War II.

“He takes a look at big events through the eyes of individuals,” Belmont Provost Dan McAlexander said. “We hope he helps the community and our students think about the relationship of their own lives to the life of the country and the major historic events we’re living through right now.”

The event is free and open to the public, but all seats have already been reserved, according to Belmont. If you're willing to go and see if somebody doesn't show up, the event begins at 7 p.m.

Apocalypse weekend, or, a great time for an economic boost

A question was raised yesterday during a media walkthrough as to what the economic impact of the debate will be for Nashville. Convention and Visitors Bureau President Butch Spyridon told me he expects the economic impact of the city to be between $2-3 million, along the lines of the Americana Music Festival and Conference held earlier this month.

“The values of the media coverage going out of here – that’s where the real payoff is,” Spyridon said.

Spyridon estimated visiting media members have bought about 1,500 hotel rooms so far, which doesn’t include the other two huge events that will be happening this weekend: the Auburn-Vanderbilt football game that will draw ESPN’s College GameDay, and Bluegrass Fan Fest, which is expected to bring (updated Oct. 2) 3,000 people from outside Nashville.

Meanwhile, I have a really great parking spot at work that I’ll be taking offers for later this week.

Morning Links: Bailing out

I think we all know what happened yesterday, although it's a little sobering to hear our people talk about it. The consensus is there is no consensus, either in Washington or in Nashville. But hey, thank goodness for those brave souls on Wall Street who have sent the Dow up 200 points so far today ... you know, one-fourth of the damage done yesterday.

Meanwhile, back in election-land, the latest MTSU Poll has McCain comfortably ahead in Tennessee, and Lamar(!) handling challenger Bob Tuke fairly easily. And speaking of handling, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden is following local liberal Larry Woods' advice and says he'll focus on John McCain instead of Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin in their Thursday debate.


Tom Brokaw, the moderator for the Belmont debate, gets a write-up in today's NYTimes.

Remember, documentary historian Ken Burns (The War, Baseball) is at Belmont tonight, 7 p.m. If you're planning on going, you should probably reserve a seat.

(Photo credit: Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Events of the Day/Week: The race gets religion

Author Shane Claiborne (Jesus for President) will be showing up three nights in a row around Nashville, speaking about politics and Christianity and serving the poor. Claiborne is one of the best-known leaders of the New Monastics, whom I can best describe as a cross among hippies, hipsters and monks (although you can be married). Claiborne kicks off his Nashville mini-tour tonight at Collins Alumni Auditorium at Lipscomb University at 7 p.m., then follows with lectures Tuesday at Vanderbilt's Benton Chapel at 2 p.m. and at Westminster Presbyterian Church (3900 West End Ave.) at 7:30 p.m., and finally at 10 a.m. on Wednesday at Belmont Heights Baptist Church (2100 Belmont Blvd.). All events are free and open to the public.

Also on Wednesday, author Stephen Mansfield (The Faith of Barack Obama) will appear at The Commons Center at Vanderbilt as part of a discussion on race, religion and politics. Mansfield, a conservative evangelical who has also written about President Bush, surprised some folks when he wrote what is considered a fairly pro-Obama analysis. The discussion, which is free and open to the public, begins at 6 p.m. on the Commons campus near Peabody College.

(Photo courtesy of Lipscomb University)

Photos of the Day: Signs of an impending debate

As mentioned earlier today, Belmont security has tightened pretty significantly today and will continue to do so this week. Above is a shot of 15th Avenue South, through the chain link fence that runs the length of the campus, from Acklen Avenue to Bernard Avenue. The fence will also show up on Belmont Boulevard next to the campus, according to debate coordinator Pamela Johnson. There's already a newly erected warning of what exactly you'll be getting yourself into if you venture down the boulevard in the next week:

On the campus itself, the school's recreation center (which sits in the same complex as the arena where the debate will be held) has been shut down, and the weight machines have been removed from their rooms. It's pretty much a ghost town in the student center, even though Fall Break isn't until next week.

In the debate hall itself, the floor has been laid and drapes hung to create the necessary partitions for the "set," but there hasn't been one two-by-four appear yet for the stage. Johnson said the Commission on Presidential Debates hopes to have the stage, which will resemble this one, completed by Saturday.

Also, there are a lot of guys in suits walking around. They look serious.

In case you missed it ...

Sunday's debate stories:

Nashville wants to put on best face for debate

Modern. Cosmopolitan. Green.


That's the image city leaders want 3,000 reporters and political leaders to take with them after the Oct. 7 presidential debate at Belmont University. It's a balancing act that Nashville has been practicing for more than a decade: continuing to honor the city's music-industry roots while trying to highlight an increasingly diverse economy and population.

Click here to read the full story.


Ticket search for Belmont debate is exercise in futility

For months, Belmont University has been telling people that there are no tickets available to the Oct. 7 presidential debate.

But that's not going to stop people from trying to find them.

"I'm really hoping to be able to find some," said Heather Norman of Hermitage, who posted a want ad on Craigslist to buy tickets from students who receive them through a school-run lottery.

Click here to read the full story.

(Photo credit: Sanford Myers/The Tennessean)

Memo to Gallup: Good luck finding those "undecideds"

The presidential debate next week at Belmont will have an audience composed of about 80 to 120 Middle Tennesseans whom the Gallup Organization identifies as undecided voters.

They might have to make a few extra phone calls, according to the latest MTSU Poll, which found 25 undecided likely voters out of a sample of 357 Tennesseans -- a whopping 7 percent. (The figures grows to 10 percent for all Tennessee adults polled.)

Unsurprisingly, McCain-Palin leads Obama-Biden 48-36 in the state, and Obama leads 59-28 in Nashville. The economy and the energy/environment ranked as the most important issues to poll participants, while abortion, gay marriage and race relations were at the bottom.

Click here to read the full poll results

Morning Links: Let the insanity begin

The chaos begins in earnest this morning at Belmont, eight days before the presidential debate. You might have noticed an 8-foot security fence along 15th Avenue South (I'll post a photo later), or the security guard posted at the entrance to the parking garage, or crews frantically working to repave sidewalks ... and yes, this will be going on all week.

Meanwhile, in the political world, after all the talking heads said nobody won last Friday's debate, other Americans said Obama won, although the post-debate polls aren't out yet. Meanwhile, the facts were checked, and both candidates were found lacking.


When your VP candidates are described as "loquacious" and "still-underexposed," well, you might not know what to expect at Thursday's debate.

From the weekend: McCain's least favorite media outlet tweaks him on gambling ties. Hey, at least here we're fair and balanced.

The people we actually elected plan to vote today on how to spend $700 billion of our money.

Cooper, Haslam debate for the kids

From colleague Jaime Sarrio:

Want to know what issues are concerning Nashville's youth?

Turns out it's the same things on everyone's mind — health care, energy, the war and of course, the economy.

But oftentimes the teens say they feel left out of the political dialogue, even though many high school seniors are able to vote. In an effort to change that, public and private school leaders are holding a town-hall-style youth presidential debate at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Parthenon.

The format will be similar to what's happening at Belmont University on Oct. 7, only for the youth debate, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper will be pinch hitting for Barack Obama and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam will stand in for John McCain.

Click here to read the full column.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bredesen: Bring in outside experts for bailout plan

The federal government should bring in outside economic experts to help hammer out a bailout plan that benefits taxpayers, Gov. Phil Bredesen said today.

“I wouldn’t trust any administration, Democrat or Republican, with the sort of unfettered power to spend that kind of money,” Bredesen said in a phone interview.

Click here to read the full story.

Our Oxford's better than your Oxford

Now that the whole debate over the debate is over, let's all sit back and give Ole Miss the chance to gloat over British football envy.

McCain is going to the debate

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain will attend the presidential debate in Oxford, Miss., this evening as Congress continues to work toward a $700 billion financial bailout plan.

"Everything is proceeding as planned," said Scott Warner, spokesman for the Commission on Presidential Debates, which will oversee the debate at the University of Mississippi tonight. "Nothing changes: the format is exactly the same, everything is exactly the same."

Click here for the full story.

Morning Links: Tick-tock, tick-tock

That's the sound of time slowly crawling toward the Ole Miss debate/non-debate, where we could see an actual exchange between John McCain and Barack Obama, or we could see Obama get the greatest free advertising ever. McCain seems closer to attending, even if the bailout plans are still being hammered out. The CPD says they should know by noon; the drop dead time is 5 p.m.

If Obama shows up alone and proceeds with a town hall format, that does two things to the Belmont debate: 1. It presumably increases its relevance given that it would become the first actual presidential debate (assuming both men attend that one), but 2. It somewhat decreases the appeal of the town hall format, because voters now will have seen both candidates, albeit separately, in a town hall setting.

And of course, if everything does go down as originally scheduled, how prepared will the candidates be after this week's hoopla?

Tick-tock, tick-tock ...

(Photo credit: Ron Edmonds/Associated Press)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Just when Ole Miss began to breathe ...

... the politicians became politicians again. What does the latest bailout impasse mean for tomorrow's scheduled debate? Apparently nothing new. We'll see if John McCain shows up in Oxford, or if Barack Obama gets some town-hall practice.

Programming note: Tomorrow's posts may be light as I work on a story for the dead-tree edition. Of course, if McCain appears on Rachel Ray, all bets are off.

Seigenthalers to discuss media ethics

It looks like tomorrow’s debate at Ole Miss will proceed as scheduled, as will a discussion headed by Tennessean publisher emeritus John Seigenthaler and son John Seigenthaler Jr. The two will discuss ethics and the media’s coverage of the election at Belmont Friday morning.

Seigenthaler, who covered the John F. Kennedy campaign in 1960 before going to work for the Kennedy administration, said he expects to discuss both the topics covered so far to the coverage itself, especially on the Internet.

“Our most recent poll showed that 17 percent of the public says they get most of their news from online … and in the 18-35 group I’m sure it’s going to be significantly higher than that,” Seigenthaler said. “The emergence of young voters in this election, I think, is a direct result of their online communication.”

The actual turnout of those young voters, Seigenthaler said, hinges on Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s appeal to first-time voters and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s ability to mobilize young evangelicals.

The talk, which is free and open to the public, begins at 10 a.m. in the Frist Lecture Hall on the fourth floor of the Gordon E. Inman Center. Seigenthaler will later be at Shamblin Theatre at Lipscomb University for the school’s Ole Miss debate watch party.

Photo of the Day: All lines are currently busy

AT&T service technician Tony Trotter wires some of the 650 phone lines for the media tent in anticipation of the Oct. 7 presidential debate at Belmont University.

The most damning evidence of the media's liberal bias

... is in our nation's crossword puzzles. (Politico)

A debate that won't be canceled (no matter how hard the candidates try)

In case this whole debate schedule goes to pot, there's at least one duo you can count on to come through: Jackie and Dunlap. The Red State Updaters will hold their own town hall debate on Oct. 6, a day before the Belmont debate, at the nearby Belcourt Theatre. I'm told this debate will be much different -- the slogan is "No Hope. No Change. No Brokaw." -- and will include puppets. Hmm ... maybe it won't be as different from the real debates as the boys think.


Morning Links: Late-night special

Part of John McCain's decision to suspend his campaign included canceling on David Letterman, whose show was scheduled to tape just a few hours after the announcement. Letterman, who earlier this week had Chris Rock calling out Bill Clinton, didn't take the cancellation lightly, especially after finding out McCain was then doing an interview with Katie Couric at the same time as Letterman's taping. Below, you can watch the entire skewering, as well as Letterman's second thrust -- having MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann on in McCain's place:

Now, the most interesting thing Olbermann says is that McCain's move to delay Friday's Ole Miss debate was a ploy to get the vice-presidential debate canceled, and thereby continue Sarah Palin's media protection plan. (Palin also showed up with Couric, and reviews were not kind.)

Being of a particular political mindset, Olbermann doesn't lend himself as the most credible source on McCain's campaign ... until McCain adviser Sen. Lindsey Graham proposed almost the exact scenario Olbermann discussed. Under Graham's proposal, the first presidential debate would be moved to Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis, and the VP debate would be rescheduled and held at Ole Miss. If the Ole Miss folks weren't happy yesterday, they'll be livid if this goes through.


Bill Clinton makes sure he mentions Barack Obama's name to Jon Stewart.

Ole Miss keeps chugging along, as does Belmont.