The pressure only worsened after the party’s overwhelming failure in the 2010 elections. Among those calling for Forrester to step aside and forego a bid for a second term as chairman were Nashville attorney and former Metro Councilman David Briley and former party chairman and longtime executive committee member Will T. Cheek.
Nearly two years later, Briley shares the hindsight of most Democrats, describing the party’s decline as a steady slope going back a decade or more.
“There was an attempt to sort of patch the boat,” he said. “It was leaking all along and patch, patch, patch—and all of a sudden it became clear that the boat was sunk. You gotta start building a new boat on dry land, and that’s where the party is right now.”
Though he said he wouldn’t compare his situation to the one Obama inherited, Forrester said it’s similar in that he’s also trying to fix a situation that, he argues, was not of his making.
“I didn’t get us into this predicament—it’s been a 10-year process,” he said. “I came in at a time when we’d suffered a pretty tremendous loss, losing the House in 2008 and then the tide year. Those are just circumstances that are outside the purview of a chair, it’s just circumstances of the world that you live in.”
Moving forward but hesitant to reveal too much of the playbook, Forrester described the New Path Forward in general terms. Along with improving cohesion between the previously mentioned “siloed and disconnected” Democratic stakeholders, it involves using a “metrics-based campaign system” and the “Democratic performance index” to identify districts and races where the chances for success are greatest. The plan, Forrester said, is to put an end to good-ol’-boy-network-based resource appropriation and instead focus on candidates who might actually have a shot.
According to Smith, one of those areas with candidates that might actually have a shot is Chattanooga. With a full pool of Democrats fielded for the upcoming local elections, weary voters seem ready, at least on the surface, to fill Forrester’s vision. Current Mayor Ron Littlefield will be stepping down after his second term, leaving the door wide open for Berke, who left his Senate seat after redistricting of the state significantly changed his home district.
Meanwhile, Berke’s state senate seat has become a hotly contested destination for some revamped candidates like Andraé McGary, who is trying to prevent the looming possibility of a Republican supermajority taking place. Nooga.com quoted him as saying, “It’s crucial that we don’t let the Republican legislature think that we are just going to lay down and play dead. We’re Democrats. And the last time I checked, Democrats were called asses. Well, we got news for those in Nashville—that this donkey, that this ass still kicks. Does anyone out there want to kick with me?”
Immediately, it doesn’t appear that McGary has too many takers—especially if you’re judging by local TV time for the upcoming elections. GOP candidates for the 3rd Congressional District— incumbent Chuck Fleischmann, Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp—have dominated advertising to the point where it’s tough to name the Democratic nominees for the district and even tougher to pinpoint their level of support.
According to a Times Free Press report, the three Republican candidates have spent at least $131,826 so far on television ads alone, while Democratic candidate Bill Taylor is the only one from his party to buy TV adds, spending a paltry $812.50 on four, four-second spots that aired in early June.
McGary’s query may be more useful as a legitimate question than a battle cry. So far it seems to be echoing off the walls of a nearly empty room with inhabitants that are eyeing the exits. Life-long Democrat Bill Knowles immediately comes to mind, who drew major criticism for switching to the Republican party two years ago even though he is one of the longest-running elected officials in Hamilton County. Couple that with the stir that rumors of a Ward Crutchfield political resurrection—only five years after being indicted on bribery charges—and local Democrats sound like a microcosm of the state-wide scene.