The Tennessee way

Cissy Baker is the great-granddaughter of the first woman to be elected sheriff in Tennessee. Next month she will formally announce her own candidacy for the Republican nomination to run for Congress. So many strands of the American political scene come together in this election that it calls for more than local interest.

For example, here is one of those Southern states benefiting from United States population shifts to gain a new congressional district. But, like so many elsewhere, the district was drawn up by one party (Democrats) so as not to make things too easy for the other. It cuts a long east-west swath through mountainous rural areas containing 23 of the state's 95 counties.

Miss Baker's response was not out of keeping with a political heritage including senators for father (Howard Baker) and grandfather (Everett McKinley Dirksen). But it was also in line with the emerging tendency of politicians to try to understand their constituents through immersion - i.e. Chicago Mayor Byrne's taking up residence for a time in a housing project. Miss Baker spent six-and-a-half months staying with a different family almost every night in order to sample life in each of those 23 counties she wants to capture.

What she came to understand, among other things, was the depth of the economic issue in places with up to 40 percent unemployment. Her task, like that of many GOP candidates around the country, will be to offer persuasive Republican solutions to problems for which a Republican administration, rightly or wrongly, is being blamed.

Discussion of specifics awaits the official start of her campaign, but already it appears that attracting small industry will be one theme. Here, too, the echoes could be nationwide, as ways to foster small business are sought in the midst of cascading bankruptcies.

Another up-to-date fillip is that Miss Baker enters politics from the media. She was assignments editor for the Cable News Network. What effect will such experience have on campaigning in rural Tennessee?

Finally, there is the factor of youth. Young Americans are always being urged to get into politics and public service. If Miss Baker, 26, should win the GOP nomination she might be pitted against Democratic candidate Jim Cooper, 27, who also has politics in the family. He is the son of a three-time governor of Tennessee, Prentice Cooper.

Remember me to Tennessee, says the song. In this political year it could just be that the ninth district of Tennessee will be remembered well beyond its craggy borders.

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