Democrats, Jesus and deer hunting in the GOP Sunbelt

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For starters, as a culturally conservative Democrat who loved his years in Tennessee (and plans to return to the Volunteer state someday), let me be the first to say that reading a Washington Post Style section piece about the anti-U.S. Senate campaign of Mark Clayton was kind of a guilty pleasure. It was like sort of like watching a figure-eight track stock car race in slow motion.

Whatever Clayton is — I lean toward the theory that he is a closeted Republican mocking the state’s now-feeble Democrats — it’s clear that, as a candidate, he is more than a few tacos short of a combination platter. The dude’s elevator is not stopping on all the floors, in other words, as the Style-section journalism gods delight in making clear.

Every election, of course, is crowded with losers: the sacrificial lambs, the one-issue zealots, the novelty name-changers (Thomas Jefferson, of Kansas, is running for Congress. Santa Claus, of Nevada, is running for president). But Clayton stands out. Nobody who has the opportunity he has — a major-party nomination for the Senate in a nail-biter election in which every Senate race has outsize importance — has so little chance of taking advantage of it.

In Wyoming, Democratic challenger Tim Chesnut is a long shot; his actual slogan is “Chesnut is the best nut for Senate.” But he at least has his party behind him. In Washington, Republican challenger Michael Baumgartner recently told a reporter to “go [expletive] yourself.” But he at least has raised nearly $1 million.

In Tennessee, Clayton’s policy ideas set him apart from many other Democrats: He is unusual in opposing abortion rights and same-sex marriage, but he’s downright exceptional in saying that the Transportation Security Administration “mandates [transsexuals] and homosexuals grabbing children in their stranger-danger zones.” …

During Clayton’s failed Senate run in 2008, his Web site suggested that the U.S. government might be replaced with a “North American Union” and that Google was working against him at the behest of the Chinese government.

But his ideas about campaigning itself might be even more un­or­tho­dox. Almost everything other candidates do, Clayton said, is wrong.

“There’s other people who have gone out and put signs all over, and gone and talked to people,” he said on the phone. “And they get less votes. They go down.”

The key to his campaign, he is reported as saying, is his Facebook page. He has 382 “likes.” Well, LOL.

But for me, in terms of religion, Clayton is not the most zippy, of-the-wall part of this colorful story. Nope, things get really strange when the LEGITIMATE Democrats try to step in and head this rogue donkey off at the pass.

In terms of religion-news content, I was going to let this one pass me by.

Then I hit this section and burst out laughing on my commuter train (thank goodness I wasn’t sitting in the quiet car).

Tennessee Democrats, who’d watched their conservative voters drift to the GOP, finally lost the state House in 2010. That had been a financial lifeline for Democrats, since the legislature has broad powers over patronage. …

This year, the cash-poor party faced a rematch with … a popular incumbent with $14 million to spend. It went looking for a candidate who could run on the cheap, and they thought they’d found someone in Park Overall.

“I said to him that night on the phone, ‘Ain’t you got anybody — g** ***n it, Chip — to run?’ And he said no,” recalled Overall, an actress best known for playing the sassy nurse Laverne on the 1990s sitcom “Empty Nest.”

Overall, 55, had returned to her native Tennessee as a well-known liberal. She was talking to the state Democratic chairman, Chip Forrester.

She resisted. For a while.

“Then, he caught me drinking one night,” Overall recounted in a phone interview. “And I said: ‘Aw, hellfire. Let’s just do it.’?”

It didn’t go well. Overall refused to spend more than $100 of her own money on the campaign (“I was a big actress years ago. Money goes.”). She said the party wasn’t much help, either: It loaned her a book called “Deer Hunting With Jesus” to help reach religious voters. Overall was also sidelined for weeks by illness.

When the primary arrived on Aug. 2, she came in third, with 24,000 votes. In second place was Gary Gene Davis, a Chattanooga man who spent less than $100 (“And that was in gas,” Davis said). In first place was Clayton, with 48,000 votes. He had spent just $65 to get them. But, state Democratic officials said, Clayton had a crucial advantage: The ballot was alphabetical.

So, “Deer Hunting With Jesus” is the answer for the postmodern Democrats? That’s the plan for getting back in the game in the booming Sunbelt?

You can’t make this stuff up. Read it all.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Martha

    “Deer Hunting with Jesus” – my goodness, it really is the “With Gun and Rod Through Darkest Africa” approach to those exotic specimens, working-class people who live in rural or small-urban areas, isn’t it?

    ‘Now remember, we need the votes of these yokels, so read up on this and pretend you know all about God, guns and gays – you like the first two and don’t like the third, okay?’

  • dalea

    The discussion of this was so long ago that the DKos search engine can not find it. All I can remember is the conclusion that what we see now is the Democratic Leadership Council’s program reduced to parody. The main blame for this, Progressives hold, goes to Harold Ford who is the DLC person for TN even tho he no longer lives there. The recommendation from DKos is to run a strong Progressive candidate on genuine Democratic principals. But the Democrats in TN never do so. The old boy network is till strong enough to keep the core constituents of the party out of the loop.

  • MJBubba

    Dalea, in Tennessee there are still plenty of blue dog Democrats, with solid traditional liberal leanings regarding the social support network and who also support sound fiscal conservativism. They aren’t much interested in destroying all the old institutions since most of them still go to church, and most of them own guns. They know that the progressive policies that the DailyKos favors are losing positions in Tennessee; outside of Nashville and Memphis they lose members to the Republicans in every election cycle. They are just hoping to stem their losses by disavowing the lose cannon who won their meaningless primary in this election, which will be a walkover for Senator Corker who is very popular here. It does not help the remaining blue dogs in the Democratic Party in Tennessee for clueless journalists from coastal urban centers to lecture them on how to go about campaigning in these here parts.


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