Sunday, August 06, 2006

Big shoes to fill

The dust has finally settled. The smoke has finally cleared.

Bob Corker is left standing to take the good fight into November, where Harold Ford Jr. is waiting.

I voted for Corker. So why am I not smiling?

Maybe it's something to do with all those senseless negative ads. Why do that when you have such a lead as Corker obviously did? Maybe it's something to do with the stretching of the truth in several of them. Maybe it's that awful ad Corker ran of him and his mother. What genius came up with that?

That's not it. I've seen negative ads (Willie Horton), stretching of the truth ("Mission Accomplished" comes to mind) and stupid political ads (Dukakis driving the tank) before.

No, I guess what gets me is thinking about the Republicans who once held the seat Corker now wants. And how he just doesn't measure up (both literally and figuratively).

Pull up a chair and let me tell you about another Chattanooga native. He was a good looking guy, and really smart. He used to be a Democrat, but saw the error of his ways in the 1950s, and converted.

He was elected to the U.S. House in 1962 and served four terms. In 1970, he won the Republican nomination to go after the devil himself --- the late Albert Gore Sr. He even beat Tex Ritter in the GOP primary!

And Bill Brock sent Gore packing for Carthage that fall.

He was the mastermind behind the rise of the modern Republican party in the Volunteer State, the seeds of which were planted in Howard Baker's election to the Senate in 1966.

Brock and other influential state Republicans found a Memphis dentist named Winfield Dunn, another dude who looked good on the tube, to run for governor in '70. Dunn won, too.

The unthinkable had happened. Tennessee became the first state from the old Confederacy to have two Republican senators, and the GOP would again hold the governor's chair for the first time since Alfred Taylor outfiddled his Democratic brother, Bob, for the seat in the 1920s.

Brock became a star in the national Republican party; he was one of Richard Nixon's favorite senators. When Watergate (and a little unpleasantness about income taxes) came back to bite him in 1976, Brock went on to become the head of the Republican National Committee.

When Brock left that job in 1981, Ronald Reagan appointed him a U.S. trade representative and, later, secretary of labor. Today he's retired and living in Annapolis, Md.

A whole blog post could be devoted to that era's senior senator from Tennessee. Baker is a true legend, a charismatic Volunteer who gained national fame as the Republican voice of reason on the Senate Watergate Committee. They called him The Great Conciliator. ("What did the president know, and when did he know it?")

He should have been president, but a guy from California with a big grin and an even better sense of humor beat him to it. Baker shrugged his shoulders and went back to the Senate. He later became Reagan's chief-of-staff at a time when the Gipper's ship needed salvaging. George W. Bush made him Ambassador to Japan.

I saw Mr. Baker at Regas earlier this year during the busy lunch hour. A bit in awe, I stuck out my shaking hand.

"How are you, sir?"

"I'm doing fine," he said. "How are you, sir?"

You gotta love a guy like that.

Meanwhile, Corker is headed toward his rendezvous with destiny and, thusly, with Ford, this November. Best guess is Corker will carry East Tennessee handily, Ford will win West Tennessee going away and the seat will be won in that squishy, basin-dominated region in the middle of the state.

If Corker wins, he's got big shoes to fill. And I'm not talking about the one's being vacated by the current Senate Majority Leader.

He, too, never quite measured up.

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