- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Many lessons are still being culled from the U.S. mid-term elections of last November. But the most important didactic tale from Nov. 5 if you are a Democrat is one that was espoused 2,000 years ago by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu: Most battles are won before they are ever fought.

Being prepared, having the right message and putting forth the most attractive candidates win the big political battles, and with this in mind Democrats need to look forward to 2004 with the determination to close the leadership gap they are currently experiencing on both issues of economic importance and foreign policy doctrine.

When looking for national leaders, political parties always need a leader who outlined a clear and concise message and has a history of showing leadership in recent years. One who has proven his mettle in political battle. Someone who hails from the same state, Tennessee, as the founder of the Democratic Party almost two centuries ago, Old Hickory himself Andrew Jackson.

What you cry, Al Gore lost a no-questions asked, no-strings-attached, sure-thing election in 2000? How could I turn back the political clock and support someone who squandered peace and prosperity with a tortured campaign where he never seemed to be able to say what he was really thinking? But the Tennessee leader the Democrats need is not Al Gore — and by withdrawing from the 2004 presidential race, he has acknowledged that himself. He is Tennessee's Gov.-elect Phil Bredesen.

Bredesen has the political ability, record and stature to become a national leader within the Democratic Party over the next two years. Yet, one can find nary a story on his victory over Republican Rep. Van Hilleary. In the Washington Post's breakdown of races state by state, under Tennessee, not one article can be found on his successful gubernatorial bid.

Not only did Bredesen win Tennessee's governorship in a state that supported President George W. Bush over political legacy and former favorite son Vice President Al Gore in 2000, but he managed to cut against the grain of a 10-point victory for former governor and current Republican Sen.-elect Lamar Alexander over Democratic Congressman Bob Clement, as well as five visits by President Bush during his 10,000 mile cross-nation spin on Lincoln Bedroom One.

Other Southern Democrats, such as Barnes, incumbent Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, Gov. Jim Hodges of South Carolina, Erskine Bowles, Alex Sanders and Florida gubernatorial candidate and "No. 1 Democratic priority" Bill McBride could not pull this off.

Bredesen was able to accomplish this victory by using his likeability, record as Nashville mayor, where he was twice elected with more than 70 percent of the vote and a well-crafted message to put together a winning formula for the election.

When it came to the former quality, we learned all too well in 2000 that whether a candidate is liked by the public counts for a lot.

The Knoxville Libertarian, after an early October debate for which it picked Bredesen as the winner, said very simply that he "came off as the more amenable person than Van Hilleary," and "seemed to be more truthful than Van Hilleary when it came to issues of spending."

Bredesen did not shy away from the tax issue, like so many Democrats did nationally. When the touchy issue of instituting a state income tax in Tennessee arose, instead of giving a read my lips response like Van Hilleary — it helped that this issue had caused a fissure within the state Republican Party.

Bredesen took a measured tone and said that he would oppose it in his first term but would have to take a look at the state of fiscal affairs during his second four years before drawing a conclusion as to its necessity. Voters seemed to appreciate his honesty.

When it came to his positive message, increasing funding for education in Tennessee, where students are currently shortchanged by the federal government, recruiting companies, particularly in the high-paying technology sector, Bredesen emphasized the obvious connection between these two issues. And he had credibility. He had actually done these things as mayor of Nashville and as a successful business executive in his previous life.

Bredesen secured half a billion additional dollars to be spent on schools in Nashville, adding more than 440 additional teachers, building 32 new schools, and renovating 43 more. He helped pay for a modernized library system. And he adopted a "Core Curriculum," a standardized set of concepts each student had to master before going on to the next grade. In other words, he instituted an education program that truly left no child behind, unlike the euphemistically named Bush education reform that lacks the funding in his own budget to succeed.

When it came to business, Bredesen had been instrumental in moving the Houston Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, to Nashville. During his tenure, Nashville saw record business investment, particularly from Fortune 500 and high-tech companies. His emphasis on placing 200 more police officers on the streets and making the city safer certainly played a part in this successful business-recruitment plan.

Bredesen had obviously proven his wares as a manager not only as a successful two-term mayor, but also as someone who drafted a business plan for a company he that eventually became HealthAmerica, employing more than 6,000 people and trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Bredesen's message was not fluff, he had the elbow grease and historical achievement to back it up.

Democrats would love to make Bush play defense in the South in 2004, and win back a state that is a part of the party's history, and part of their winning coalition in 1992 and 1996. Bredesen may offer them some hope that they can do it.

(Cliff Schecter is a Democratic political consultant, writer, and political commentator.)

(Outside View columns are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in issues of public interest.)

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