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.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Question of the Day: How does the ticket lottery work?

We'll be bringing you a question each day from Belmont students and members of the community about different aspects of the debate, and the answer from Belmont. Today's question comes from Belmont freshman Sara Hissner:

The lottery, which was held last week, drew about 1,200 students who were randomly assigned a number, according to Belmont vice president Bo Thomas. Those students won't know if they're selected until just a couple of days before the debate, when the Commission on Presidential Debates hands over any available tickets -- probably less than 50 -- to Belmont.

Hissner, who said she has a number in the 600s, had heard that the numbers drawn might have another number added to them -- for instance, the number 20 could have a "2" placed before it, meaning the student assigned number 220 would receive a ticket. Thomas said he had not heard anything to that effect, and expected the tickets to go in sequential order to students, beginning with the lucky person assigned number 1. The smallest number I've heard so far from a student? 25.

If you have a question about the debate, e-mail me at ccsledge@tennessean.com.

Photo of the Day: Building a political platform

Mitch Williams, a worker with Green Enterprises in Nashville, installs a black curtain to cover up the framing of the large TV platform in preparation for the debate in the Curb Event Center.

(Photo credit: Sanford Myers/The Tennessean)

Obama: "More important than ever" to hold debate UPDATED

Obama tells McCain: Debate on.

ALSO: Belmont's Fisher "stunned" by McCain proposal.
Ole Miss soldiers on.
Some local debate parties, if that whole debate thing happens.

Belmont president "stunned" by McCain proposal

Belmont President Bob Fisher says he can’t imagine what Ole Miss officials are going through after John McCain announced this afternoon he wanted to delay Friday’s debate to work on the financial crisis.

“I was stunned,” Fisher said. “I really feel badly for the people at Ole Miss. That was my first instinct, because I know how much work they have put into it.”

Fisher said he has not heard from the Commission on Presidential Debates, which oversees both the Ole Miss debate and the Oct. 7 presidential debate at Belmont. Belmont will continue its preparation plans as usual unless the commission says something different, Fisher said.

“It’s amazingly complicated what happens for these debates,” Fisher said. “We knew from the beginning that we weren’t in control of this process, and there’s an additional piece of proof.”

McCain asks for Ole Miss debate delay UPDATED

John McCain is planning to suspend his campaign in order to go back to Washington and work on the financial crisis, and has asked Barack Obama to do the same. He's also asking that the Ole Miss debate on Friday be delayed as a result.

CNN is saying the two campaigns have talked, but there has been no formal word from Obama.

UPDATE: Obama campaign says we thought about that first; looks like Obama wants the debate.

Ole Miss: "We've put massive amounts of money into this"

Officials at Ole Miss are, well, apoplectic over John McCain's call to delay Friday's debate. Andrew Mullins, executive assistant to Chancellor Robert C. Khayat, just told me the school had no advance notice from the campaign, and said he learned about the proposal from CNN.

"The [Commission on Presidential Debates] said keep working like it's going to occur," Mullins said. "We’ve put massive amounts of money into this thing. We've been preparing for six months."

The school is reportedly spending $5 million on the debate, which already had its topic switched from domestic policy to foreign policy. When I asked Mullins if he'd rather the debate stay scheduled for Friday, he responded: "That’s an understatement, Colby. Good Lord."

Another debate party ... if there's still a debate, that is

Kleinheider mentions blogger Sean Braisted's birthday/debate party Friday evening at Bailey's Bar and Grill. And unlike the debate, McCain can't try to delay Braisted's birthday!

List of Ole Miss debate watch parties

Here’s a list of Ole Miss debate watch parties I have so far; e-mail me at ccsledge@tennessean.com to get yours included. Remember, the debate starts at 8 p.m. CDT Friday.

Belmont University
Where: Belmont Heights Baptist Church Sanctuary, 2100 Belmont Blvd.
Time: 7 p.m.
Hosts: Belmont debate coach Jason Stahl, political scientist Vaughn May
Accompanying events: Belmont College Republicans and Young Democrats will host a roundtable discussion after the debate.
Contact: debate08@mail.belmont.edu

Lipscomb University
Where: Shamblin Theatre on Lipscomb’s campus, 3901 Granny White Pike
Time: 8 p.m.
Hosts: Tennessean publisher emeritus John Seigenthaler, foreign policy historian Howard Jones
Contact: Janel Shoun, janel.shoun@lipscomb.edu

Middle Tennessee Ole Miss Club
Where: The Closing Bell — Wall Street Pub, 1524 Demonbreun St
Time: 7 p.m.
Host: Middle Tennessee Ole Miss Club
Accompanying events: Trivia before the debate
Contact: Martin Michael, martinmichael@comcast.net

Music Row 4 McCain
Where: Sam’s Sports Bar, 1803 21st Avenue South
Time: 7 p.m.
Host: Music Row 4 McCain, a grassroots organization of songwriters and producers for McCain-Palin
Contact: Bob Schwartz, 615-419-9615

Nashville Democratic Headquarters
Where: Nashville Democratic HQ, 907 Rosa Parks Blvd.
Time: 6 p.m.
Host: Victory 2008 Campaign
Accompanying events: Obama Tennessee Director Jerry Martin speaks at 7 p.m.
Contact: David Shankle, 615-244-1244

RVers can once again roll to the polls


"The Teels and Mr. Layton, who live full-time in their recreational vehicles, were among over 250 full-time RVers who were purged from Tennessee voting rolls in 2006 based on a change in Tennessee law which prohibited people from using a commercial address to register to vote. ... After lengthy discussions with ACLU-TN, the Bradley County Election Commission agreed that the National Voter Registration Act allows the Teels and Mr. Layton to use the address of the parking lot of a mail forwarding service to register to vote."

Defending our right to drink

The Anheuser-Busch folks just sent me a nice letter inviting me to get to know them, their new Belgian owners and their "longstanding support of the U.S. election process and our latest social responsibility efforts" during the election. And I can watch hilarious beer-themed ads! From the presser:

"For the fifth straight presidential election, Anheuser-Busch is proud to sponsor the Commission on Presidential Debates. If you or someone at your organization is attending the debates, we invite you to be our guest at the Anheuser-Busch hospitality areas at each of the four debate sites.

We hope our hospitality area will provide a welcome opportunity to relax with some great food and ice-cold beverages and connect with colleagues and friends. If you’re looking for a little entertainment, you’ll be able to watch some of our latest television spots and enter a drawing for a chance to win a Budweiser fire pit, perfect for outdoor gatherings this fall."

Wait ... what kind of "ice-cold beverages"?

Morning Links: Free Sarah Palin!

Looks like David Kernell dodged his first bullet when he wasn't indicted by a federal grand jury over accusations that he accessed Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's personal e-mail. But he's not in the clear yet.

And neither is Palin, if CNN's Campbell Brown has anything to do about it. Brown called McCain out last night for Palin's insulation from reporters. Brown tells McCain's campaign to free Palin from the "chauvinistic chains you're binding her with." I saw Brown's manifesto while at dinner, and even with the TV muted I could tell she was hacked off.


The daily poll roundup has Obama ahead nationally, but the battleground states are still predictably close.

Joe Biden maybe kinda sorta mixes up Depression-era presidents.

Hey look, another "new Ole Miss" story! I won't say I told you so ... but I told you so.

(Photo credit: Henny Ray Abrams/Associated Press)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Question of the Day: What couldn't Belmont do?

We'll be bringing you a question each day from Belmont students and members of the community about different aspects of the debate, and the answer from Belmont. Today's question comes from Salon Stephen owner Stephen Million:

Belmont says there is nothing they weren't able to do, according to Pamela Johnson, Belmont's debate coordinator.

"No, not to my knowledge; I think we've accommodated all we've wanted to do," Johnson said when asked the question.

There is, however, at least one debate-related event that Belmont students were denied the ability to do: shoot video coverage during the day of the debate. Belmont journalism students tell me the Commission on Presidential Debates has said Belmont students will only be able to write about the events and won't be able to shoot video because of incidents involving students at a 2004 debate (I'm still checking into that).

When asked, Johnson said the school had "tried to make a provision to get one or two kids in" the media filing center, but said the event was ultimately about "high-level journalists doing their jobs." Right now, it appears the students will be limited to shooting video outside the campus and filing online reports; I'll let you know if I hear more.

Declaration of Independence coming to town

As if Nashville couldn't get any more patriotic for debate week, we'll have our very own copy of the Declaration of Independence in town the weekend before the debate. One of the 25 surviving original copies of the document (printed July 4-5, 1776) will be at the downtown library Oct. 4-6. The dates and times for the free viewings are below:

Oct. 4: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Oct. 5: 2 - 5 p.m.
Oct. 6: 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.

The copy is owned by Norman Lear, a patriot in his own right for producing shows like All in the Family, Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons. He bought the copy for $8.14 million after it was discovered behind a painting bought at a flea market. Lear's tour is part of his Declare Yourself initiative (which has one slick Web site) to register young voters.

The viewing will have actors portraying figures including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and even a video hosted by our very own Reese Witherspoon.

The Others: Third-party candidates to hold own debate

Chris Lugo has been busy today:

"The Coalition for October Debate Alternatives (CODA) announced today the Presidential Candidate's Alternative Debate to take place October 6th, in Nashville, Tennessee. The debate is open to all third party candidates for President in the United States as well as the major party nominees.

The debate, which is scheduled to take place on the campus of Vanderbilt University on Monday, October 6th will feature several Presidential Candidates who have confirmed attendance including Brad Lyttle of the US Pacifist Party, Charles Jay of the Boston Tea Party, Frank McEnulty of the New American Independence Party and Brian Moore of the Socialist Party.

Other candidates who have expressed interest in attending the debate include Gloria LaRiva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party.

The debate, which is being organized by CODA has been in the making for several months and is scheduled to take place on Monday, October 6th at 7:00pm, one day prior to the Presidential Debates which are happening at Belmont University in Nashville on October 7th. CODA says that many of the Presidential candidates have been excluded from attending the Belmont debate."

Vanderbilt's Bruce Barry will moderate the event, which is open to the public.

Have a Goo Goo with your thoughtful political analysis

Belmont debate coordinator Pamela Johnson spoke to the Exchange Club of Nashville today and hit the basics of the debate. Here are some of my notes of things maybe you and I didn't know:

• The price tag for the debate could creep to $3.5 million, which the school says it has covered from private donations. Belmont initially pegged the cost around $3 million.

• Passengers on flights from St. Louis to Nashville -- which will likely include lots of media members coming from the vice presidential debate at Washington University -- will be treated to performances from Belmont students when they come in to Nashville International Airport.

• The big boys -- ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN and C-SPAN -- will get prime real estate for their satellite trucks in the parking lot north of the Belmont soccer field, where the media tent now sits. The local affiliates will have space nearby, Johnson said, but nobody's parking on 15th Avenue South next to the school. So don't try it!

• The hospitality tent -- you know, the one sponsored by Anheuser Busch -- will feature local goodies like Little Debbie snacks, Tennessee Tea Cakes, and Goo Goos! I can't wait to see the looks on the faces of international media turn from bewilderment to ecstasy.

Emergency center to move away from debate site

From colleague Kate Howard:

The presidential debate at Belmont will be sending a big neighbor across town while Secret Service agents swarm: the Emergency Communications Center and Mayor's Office of Emergency Management.

The city's 911 dispatch center and emergency response organization, now situated alongside the university's campus, will move for a week to their backup center in Antioch for two reasons, says ECC director Duane Phillips: to make it easier on employees trying to get in and out of work, and so their infrastructure and 911 lines are far enough from campus to manage an emergency in case one occurs.

"We know our backup system works perfectly, because once a month we run it for a full 24 hours," Phillips said. "Everything we have here, we have there."

So from the Friday before (Oct. 3) to the Thursday after (Oct. 9) the candidates' visit, the center should be operating outside the scrunity of the heavy security and far from a disaster, should one occur.

Hip-hop the vote

Vanderbilt is hosting a free discussion Thursday on hip-hop and the election, including remarks from M-1 of the hip-hop duo dead prez (their own Web site prominently features their middle fingers, so I'll leave you to go find it). Having listened to a little of their stuff right now (again, you'll have to find it for yourself on YouTube) the group appears to have pretty heavy socialist leanings, so it might be interesting to hear M-1's take on the candidates, if only because it appears McCain and Obama aren't going to please him.

Other guests include authors Bakari Kitwana, Adam Mansbach, Vijay Prashad, Maya Rockeymoore and community organizer Angela Woodson. The event starts at 6 p.m. in the multipurpose room of The Commons.

Morning Links: Chris Rock fact-checks Clinton

Barack Obama did win the Democratic nomination, as Chris Rock reminds us.

President Clinton showed up on Letterman last night and talked at length about the economy and the race, seeming curiously bipartisan and mentioning his wife more than a few times. Unfortunately, CBS decided to put up the most uninteresting part of the show, but it was perfect Clinton: reassuring the people, even saying that he thought now is "a great time to be president" ... in the midst of war and a failing economy.

Then Chris Rock came out and reminded Clinton -- who had already left the stage -- that his wife actually lost the Democratic primary, "and is it me, or he didn't want to say the name Barack Obama?" And he was more or less right. Watch below!

"She lost to a black guy nobody knew. She didn't lose to The Power," Rock said. And Letterman looked kinda uncomfortable and pleased with himself at the same time.


In the ongoing Palin e-mail saga, it appears David Kernell really didn't know what he was getting himself into when he accessed the Republican vice presidential candidate's personal e-mail. His lawyer describes Kernell as a "decent and intelligent young man," and his father, state Rep. Mike Kernell, is described as a straight-laced politician.

He "is your quintessential Boy Scout," said state Rep. John DeBerry, another Democrat. "If Mike had known anything about this, he would have had a fit on his son."

Something tells me that by now, he has had a fit and then some.


Unsurprisingly, Obama's candidacy has heightened election interest among African-Americans, and has reminded us all about racism.

The NYTimes compares McCain's "scrappy" debate style with Obama's "tendency to overintellectualize."

(Photo credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press)

Peace coalition to protest debate

Here's what I think is the first publicly announced protest of the Belmont debate, to be held by the Nashville Peace Coalition.

"The Nashville Peace Coalition has issued a call today for a Regional Demonstration for Peace and Real Human Priorities on October 7, 2008 in Hillsboro Village at 21st Ave. So and Blakemore, less than one mile from the Presidential Candidate's Debate that evening. The demonstration is scheduled to take place from 4pm to 7pm and organizers say it will be a peaceful and non-violent expression of activists concerns that war in Iraq is not extended into the next Presidential administration. Other concerns expressed by the organizers include bringing the troops home from Afghanistan and no military strikes against Iran."

Chris Lugo, who ran for the U.S. Senate under the Green Party in 2006 and is running again this year, is helping spearhead the protest.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Photo of the Day: Hanging the Banner

Workers hang the first banners in the media tent at Belmont University on Monday as the school continues to prepare for the Oct. 7 town hall presidential debate.

(Photo credit: John Partipilo/The Tennessean)

Belmont has a COW to improve cell service

iPhone users will notice a unique benefit to the Belmont debate: better service, thanks to a couple of giant antennas latched to a truck on campus. The COW, or Cellular on Wheels, truck is courtesy of AT&T, which is handling all of the telecommunications for the event.

The truck was brought in to handle all media calls and wireless Internet cards, said Randall Reynolds, director of technology services for Belmont. It would normally cost about $30,000 to operate, but the company is providing it as part of its sponsorship of the debate. (The school will spend about $6,000 overall in wireless upgrades, Reynolds said.)

“There’s enough service for AT&T in the area, but not for the number of people in the footprint,” Reynolds said.

The truck will improve 3G broadband performance for AT&T users, which will directly impact users of the new iPhone. Residents near the university might also find they have better cell phone service, Reynolds said.

“If they didn’t have good cell phone service before with AT&T, they might now,” Reynolds said.

But users of other wireless providers should also see better service. Verizon has added a tower on one side of the soccer field near the media tent, and other providers will also use that tower, Reynolds said.

Thanks to permanent antennas added to the Curb Event Center, cell phone service for AT&T and Verizon customers will also improve in the arena, Reynolds said. Which of course begs the question: Who’s going to send the first text message from inside the debate hall?

Questions of the Day: Q&A with Bob Fisher

Normally I bring you a question each day from the Belmont community about the debate, but today's a special expanded edition: a Q&A with Belmont President Bob Fisher, who sat down with me after addressing a student forum on all things Belmont, debate-related and otherwise. The summary of that meeting: the student ticket lottery is closed (with about 1,200 of the school's 5,000 students applying); Belmont will not be sending debate info out over the emergency text message system; and students should check their school e-mail more often.

Here, Fisher discusses what Belmont has left to do and what Nashville should expect as the media descends on the city:

Have more questions for Belmont? E-mail me at ccsledge@tennessean.com.

Tennessee's campaign volunteers step it up

From colleague Jennifer Brooks:

The polls and pundits say Tennessee won't be one of the presidential battleground states, but you wouldn't know that, standing in the middle of Nashville's volunteer presidential campaign headquarters.

"We're excited, we have a great team and we just want to help them get elected," said Barbara Outhier, standing in the shell of an old Green Hills Burger King that she and other volunteers have just transformed into Nashville's brand-new McCain/Palin campaign headquarters.

Click here to read the full story, and here for a previous story on the local Obama/Biden HQ.

(Photo credit: George Walker IV/The Tennessean)

Lipscomb stakes claim on debates

While Belmont will get an untold amount of publicity in the next month, the school down the boulevard is doing its own thing for the debates. Lipscomb University will hold a free lecture tonight at its Ezell Center (7:30 p.m.) with political science professor Michael Nelson of Rhodes College in Memphis. Nelson is also the author of several books, including how we Southerners all became riverboat gamblers.

Lipscomb will also hold a debate viewing party Friday for the Ole Miss debate with Tennessean publisher emeritus John Seigenthaler. For more info on Lipscomb's debate events, click here.

Morning Links: Looking to Oxford

With the Ole Miss debate a mere four days away, it looks like people (read: national media) are starting to pay more attention to the events and the candidates' strategies for them. Most interesting: an agreement by both parties to rein in the vice-presidential debate for fear that one candidate may look unprepared and the other might say something regrettable (I think you can guess which is which).

The Wall Street Journal fires off the first of what will probably be many "the new Ole Miss" stories.
That move by the candidates to put foreign policy first? Might not look so great as the economy tanks.
Obama's staff has pulled out of North Dakota to focus on Minnesota and Wisconsin, which the campaign sees as battleground states (and probably because they each have three times as many electoral votes as N.D.).


In other political news, looks like the FBI is getting serious about the Palin e-mail "hacker" (although he's really just good at answering her e-mail password questions), visiting his apartment and questioning his roommates. Something tells me this one could go for a while.

And finally, what, my friends, would a Monday post be without an SNL clip?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lunchtime links: It's the stupid economy, stupid

It should be no surprise that the presidential candidates are chatting it up about the economy this week, although they seem more focused on going after each other's plans (and their ads) than discussing their own (although we at least know McCain would fire somebody). Let's see if that changes today.

Meanwhile, the campaigns thank you for your donations, Wall Street!

(Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Question of the Day: How do I get involved?

We'll be bringing you a question each day from Belmont students and members of the community about different aspects of the debate, and the answer from Belmont. Today's question comes from Belmont freshman Travis Chapman:

Some students have already been accepted as volunteers for the debate, and others can throw debate watch parties, said Pamela Johnson, Belmont's debate coordinator. Students can also attend events on campus and around the city related to the debate.

The easiest thing students could do to participate in the debate process is register to vote, Johnson said. The voter registration deadline for Tennessee is Oct. 6; click here to see deadlines in other states.

Kids today! Tenn. Rep. says son is Palin e-mail hacker

From colleague Theo Emery:

State Rep. Mike Kernell confirmed Thursday that his son, a University of Tennessee-Knoxville student, is at the center of heated Internet discussion into the hacking of the personal e-mail of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Kernell, a Memphis Democrat, confirmed that it is his 20-year-old son, David, who is being widely named on Internet blogs and chatrooms in connection with an unfolding story about Palin's hacked e-mail accounts.

Read the full story here.

Earlier: When e-mail becomes we-mail

Debate volunteer requirement: good running shoes

Students who volunteered to work for the debate have a leg up on their classmates for actually getting a glimpse at the candidates – or anyone else on campus, for that matter.

But some of them will have to make sure those legs are well-toned, because they’ll be expected to hustle back and forth between the debate and the media tent to deliver transcripts to reporters.

In an e-mail request for student volunteers, the position of “transcript runner” is described as the following: “Runners will make and distribute copies of the debate transcriptions to the press corps as they become available throughout the debate and immediately after. They will require fast running, quick thinking and good teamwork ability.”

Good teamwork ability? Does that mean they’ll have to practice their baton handoffs, too?

Belmont junior Julie Kenny, who was notified she would be one such runner, says she’s already training for debate night. If a bigwig anchor needs a quote (hey, what about us?), she’s wants to make sure she’s ready.

“I got some tennis shoes to start training,” Kenny said. “I’m hoping the adrenaline from the whole night will kick in, because I don’t like exercise.”

Other student volunteer positions — which, like Kenny’s, have already been filled — include a television production runner (oddly, no mention of required speed), ushers, program distributors, credentialing assistants, and the noblest position of all: a job in the press office.

Photo/Event of the Day: Taping down flying carpets

Belmont University sophomore Liz Mosiman helps prepare the stage for opening night of Arabian Nights at Troutt Theater. The production, part of a series of performances focusing on freedom of culture, runs Thursdays through Sundays (7:30 p.m. starts Thurs.-Sat., 2:30 p.m. Sun.) through Sept. 28. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for students and is free for Belmont students.

Belmont, Hofstra students similarly detached from debate plans

My travels last week took me to Hofstra University, which will hold its presidential debate eight days after Belmont’s on Oct. 15. The 13,000-student university is located in the city of Hempstead on Long Island, N.Y., and, like Belmont, will host its first presidential debate this year.

That’s one of the few similarities between Belmont and Hofstra. Hofstra’s campus is three times the size of Belmont, and its student body is more than twice as large. Hofstra will host the only debate site more than 325 miles from Belmont.

Hofstra’s location, however, is something of a detriment to its publicity of the debate: while Belmont has the advantage of being located practically in the heart of Nashville, Hofstra is a good 45-minute drive (or two-hour train/subway ride) from the middle of Manhattan, where most people don’t seem to know about the event.

“It’s an opportunity to raise the school’s profile, naturally,” said Hofstra spokeswoman Melissa Connolly, who said the school’s out-of-state population has risen to 50 percent of the student body. “There’s a sense that this is a place that is changing.”

During my visit Tuesday afternoon, the only signs of debate planning I saw were the banners hung on light poles surrounding the campus. Unlike Belmont, Hofstra’s media center will be located in a nearby athletic facility, meaning the school won’t have a massive tent like other campuses.

The debate itself will be held in the arena in the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex. Classes will be canceled that day.

In my conversations with students, most knew about the debate but had not been involved in any debate-related events at the school. Former Clinton adviser and This Week host George Stephanopoulos had just visited the campus the previous day.

“There are a lot of opportunities I haven’t taken advantage of yet,” said freshman Jordyn Wilson, of Petoskey, Mich.

Junior Isabelle Goodman, the president of the school’s Progressive Student Union, was in the campus student center lobby handing out materials and talking about the election. Her group, which numbers around 40 students, is planning demonstrations ranging from a “Polar Bears for Palin” rally to placing 30, 10-foot-tall, paper-mache wind turbines on campus.

“We have a good relationship with the university … but we want to push the envelope a little bit,” Goodman said.

Goodman said students she spoke with seemed interested in the debate, but added she thought “people are still in the dark a little bit on who gets to go to the debate.”

Like the other host sites, the school is holding a ticket lottery for current students.

“We talk about it a lot because it’s hard to get into,” said sophomore Andreina Nunez of nearby Queens. She had not signed up for the lottery because she didn’t know how, she said.

In comparing the schools, Hofstra students appeared to show the same amount of interest and enthusiasm about the debates — that is to say, moderate to low levels of each — as Belmont students. It’s a similarity that both schools likely hope will change as their respective debates near.

Corporate sponsors line up for debate

From colleague Wendy Lee:

Steven Akey of Bridgestone Americas wasted no time last fall when Belmont University was named as the host of one of the 2008 presidential debates.

Within minutes of hearing the news, Akey called Belmont University officials, becoming the first corporate sponsor for the historic Oct. 7 event. The cost: $50,000.

Like Bridgestone, companies across the region have jumped at the chance to tie their names — and corporate logos — to an event that appears likely to become one of the most watched moments in American political history.

Click here to read the full story.

Morning Links: When e-mail becomes we-mail

Well, I'm back on Belmont's campus today after a week in New York (including a stop at Hofstra University, the site of the final presidential debate -- more on that later today), and the talk of the city was Wall Street's continued tremors. That means you'll start hearing a lot more about the economy from the candidates, too, even if they don't know that much.

Meanwhile, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has a whole other problem on her hands: the hacking of her personal e-mail account. Now the Secret Service and the FBI are interested, likely both for privacy/safety reasons and previous evidence of her use of private e-mail for government-related matters. Maybe, Time magazine says, McCain should stick with his online ignorance (regardless of whether he helped invent the BlackBerry).


McCain and Obama's pledges to battle earmarks could hurt their political chances in states like West Virginia.

Pollsters say voters believe policy change is more likely from Obama than McCain.

(Photo credit: Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Submit a debate question at new MySpace site

From Ryan Underwood:

Have a burning question to put to the candidates when they swoop into Nashville for a town hall debate at Belmont University Oct. 7? Now you have the (tiniest sliver of a) chance to do so. The Commission on President today launched MyDebates.org, a co-branded site with MySpace that lets visitors submit their debate questions. It also offers an issues quiz, video clips and a Cliffs Notes version of the candidates' voting records.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gore, Quayle and Stockdale star in vintage 1992 veep debate footage

From Ryan Underwood:

In doing a some research for another project I stumbled across this vintage clip of Al Gore, Dan Quayle and Adm. James Stockdale at the 1992 vice presidential debate. A classic.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hofstra debate flying under the NYC radar

I guess there are a lot of things to do in a city of 8 million people, but I really thought more New Yorkers would know about the Oct. 15 presidential debate at Hofstra University on Long Island. I mean, I realize it's not at Columbia University (where the candidates were last week, which the people I spoke to on the bus didn't seem to know), but given all the excitement around Belmont, I just figured most people knew.

"The conventions were late in the summer, so there wasn't a lot of chatter about the debates," said Hofstra spokeswoman Melissa Connolly when I talked to her about it last week. "When people become familiar with our program, it has worked really well.

"There's always so much news. When it comes, people are going to pay attention."

Connolly said word must be getting around, though, because she has received "thousands" of phone calls asking for tickets (which means she has received fewer requests than I have). Like Belmont and other hosts, the school will hold a ticket lottery for current students only.

The 13,000-student school decided to apply for the debate after President Bill Clinton spoke in Nov. 2005, Connolly said. The school has a center for the study of the American presidency, and has held conferences on every president since FDR.

I'll let you know what it's looking like over there (hopefully) later this week. I think I'll avoid the George Stephanopoulos crush today.

Party down with the AARP

So if you didn't get an invite to the official Belmont debate viewing party, at least you know you have one of the nation's most powerful lobbyists on your side: the AARP. The 50-and-up club is hosting a debate watch party (since they couldn't have their own debate) with free food and music at the bandshell in Centennial Park on Oct. 7. (And if you see any local elected officials there, let me know!)

Lunchtime Links: All-SNL Ticket, Gore's boat, and a roundup

In a presidential race that has remained tight, it seems America has spoken: we want Tina Fey. (You can watch the high-res version -- albeit with commercials -- here.)


Steve Gill is mad about Al Gore's family's new houseboat.
In case you missed it: Business owners around Belmont want to hear from the school.
Ralph Nader says he knew the Wall Street shakeup was coming. Sorry, Ralph: You're still (probably) not coming to Belmont.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Morning Links: All the Candidates' Speeches

The September 11 anniversary is over, so the gloves come back off for the candidates. Obama's campaign says it's ready to hit harder, while you'll likely hear all about the Bush Doctrine today as part of Palin's first interview. Need to catch up? Your video links to the candidates' discussions at Columbia U. in NYC and Palin's interview are below. Coffee not included.




Thursday, September 11, 2008

Question of the Day: What about dorm searches?

We'll be bringing you a question each day from Belmont students and members of the community about different aspects of the debate, and the answer from Belmont. Today's question comes from Belmont freshman Jesse Johnson:

A: Well, there's not really a complete answer for this one -- at least, not one Belmont administrators say they know about. Pamela Johnson, Belmont's debate coordinator, said the Secret Service typically doesn't discuss security measures, for reasons related to, well, security. According to an e-mail to students over the summer, dorms will be subject to search at any time during a 48-hour period from Oct. 5 until Oct. 7, the day of the debate. In other words, for students on campus during the debate weekend, expect your room to be searched at any time -- so make sure you pick up after yourself!

McCain and Obama at Columbia University

I'm sitting in my room near the Teachers College at Columbia University, mere blocks from where Sens. McCain and Obama are speaking tonight about national service. (It turns out tickets to this debate were also available only through a student lottery) McCain and Obama are appearing on stage together right now (oh, there they go!) and they seemed cordial; they shook hands and McCain gave a thumbs-up to his opponent. McCain just spoke about how national service can bring people together across racial lines, and Obama is now laying out what he plans to do about energy and foreign oil. Earlier the two appeared at Ground Zero together on the 7th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

You can check out the USA Today live blog of the Columbia forum here, and tell me what you think about what the candidates had to say tonight.

Rock the Vote with Melinda

From the mothership:

Nashville residents can register to vote at a free concert at Belmont University on Saturday, sponsored by Rock the Vote.

The group's "Road Trip '08" kick-off concert will feature American Idol finalist and Belmont alum Melinda Doolittle, plus performances by local artists. The event kicks off on campus at 2 p.m. Saturday.

U.S. Rep. Cohen: Saint? Sinner? (Neither?)

Here's a clip of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, on the floor of the House pointing out that Jesus was a community organizer and that Pontius Pilate was a governor.

The Tennessee Republican Party responds thusly:

“Frankly, we’re shocked that Rep. Cohen, a Memphis Democrat who was targeted by vicious anti-Jewish slurs and bigotry during his two successful runs for Congress, would make such idiotic and offensive comments,” said Robin Smith, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. “Comparing Gov. Palin to the killer of Christ is simply beyond the pale. Gov. Palin’s strong Christian life and faith are self-evident.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Programming Note: Off to Hofstra

Just so you know, I'll be headed to this place tomorrow for a week with these guys. The good news is that I'll be bringing you info from Hofstra University, which will hold the final presidential debate eight days after the Belmont debate. I'm curious about their planning, and I'm sure they want to know what to expect based on this week at Belmont. I'll still be updating periodically, and I suspect you'll see some stories from my colleagues. If you have any restaurant suggestions, send them along!

Question of the Day: Who do I call?

We'll be bringing you a question each day from Belmont students and members of the community about different aspects of the debate, and the answer from Belmont. Today's question comes from International Restaurant and Market owner Patti Myint, who wants to know who to call at Belmont with questions on how the debate will affect her business:

A: According to the Belmont Web site, questions about the debate should be directed to Pamela Johnson, Belmont's debate coordinator, at (615) 460-6178, or e-mailed to debate08@mail.belmont.edu.

And of course, you can always contact me!

Have a question about the debate? E-mail Colby Sledge at ccsledge-at-tennessean-dot-com. We may ask to film you asking your question.

BTW: There are no tickets to the debate

I know I've written about this before, but I've received a few e-mails and calls asking where to get tickets to the debate.

The short answer: Unless you are a Belmont student, there are none. Only students will have a shot at whatever tickets come open for them.

Here's Belmont's answer to the same question:

Belmont University is thrilled to have been selected as the site for the 2008 Presidential Town Hall Debate. It is a privilege for us to host this historic event.

The debates are primarily intended for the television viewing audience. Tickets are not available to the general public. Belmont students will be given top priority for any tickets that may be made available to Belmont.

The Belmont debate is the only official Town Hall Debate. Participants asking questions of the candidates will be chosen by the Gallup Organization. Belmont will have no control of the selection of participants.

Some of my friends have come up with the plan that if a Gallup representative calls them, they'll say they have no idea who they're voting for in hopes of being selected (Gallup is choosing about 150 self-described "undecided" Middle Tennesseans for the town hall audience.). This seems dishonest and an affront to the selection process ... and is probably exactly what has happened in previous town hall debates.

And now for something different: Vince Gill to perform at Belmont Mansion fundraiser

It’s not entirely debate-related, but it does involve a member of the Honorary Host Committee, so I’ll count it: Crooner Vince Gill will give an “intimate musical acoustic performance” on Monday as part of a fundraiser to restore Adelicia Acklen’s bedroom at the Belmont Mansion.

The “Moonlight & Ice” fundraiser, which organizers hope will raise $70,000 for the restoration, will be held at Adelicia Park at 900 20th Avenue South. Tickets to the 7 p.m. concert are $150 for general admission and $350 for VIP seating, which includes a private cocktail party with Gill.

Acklen (1817-1887), who built the Belmont Mansion with husband Joseph in 1853, gave “Moonlight & Ice” parties on nights of the full moon, according to event organizers. The “ice” portion was derived from the ice cubes — a sign of wealth — in pitchers of water for the guests.

General admission tickets are available Davis Kidd Booksellers and the Belmont Mansion, but there are only 250 available. VIP tickets are only available by invitation, so if you didn’t already know about them, you’re probably not one of the 75 people getting them.

Those interested in more information can call 460-5459.