In a statement released this afternoon, Bill Frist opened the floodgates for Republican gubernatorial hopefuls and kept the door closed for his own presidential ambitions by confirming that he will not run for governor in Tennessee in 2010.
Who will be the Republican hopefuls?
- Zach Wamp: The congressman from the fighting 3rd has basically been telling Frist to shit or get off the pot for weeks. I’m sure I’m not the only Tennessean who has noticed his self-promoting mug on billboards prominently placed along I-40 the farther East one gets in Tennessee. His shrewd pre-emptive waste management of his nose candy problem was almost Obama-esque, but is he too zealous?
- Bill Haslam: Haslam has a head-down reputation for competent governance of Tennessee’s pre-Appalachian outpost, and he’s less of a lightning rod than former Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe.
- Bill Gibbons: I’ll confess to knowing least about Gibbons other than that he has confessed interest in the race as a Republican.
- Marsha Blackburn: The only female congressman in Tennessee, the newly feminist and ever-ambitious ex-stylist Marsha Marsha Marsha has her work cut out for her in accessing the same base Wamp is likely to court, especially after a healthy challenge from her right by Tom Leatherwood in 2008’s Republican primary. Word in the mythical backrooms is that the Baker boys aren’t fond of her. Her ambition more than conventional wisdom leave her on the list. Rep. Beth Harwell’s recent deferral to Mumpower keeps her off for now.
The real wildcard here will be whether this is a replay of the 2006 U.S. Senate Republican primary, where two conservatives (Bryant, Hilleary) pave the way for a moderate (Corker), or whether two moderates pave the way for a conservative. Will Gibbons enter the fray as a moderate or a conservative (particularly of the social variety)? I’m expecting Haslam to lean moderate, although he could (unpleasantly) surprise me.
Haslam stands to out-Bresdesen Bredesen by campaigning as a pragmatic fiscally responsible executive able to build alliances with rather than alienate core members of his party but able to be a sincere bipartisan operator at the same time.
The other big winner from today’s news is Democratic state senator Andy Berke. Having recently been the best promoter of Democratic ideas in the state, he stands well poised to emerge from what will probably be a small field of legitimate Democratic contenders if the U.S. Senate primary is any gauge of Democratic interest in statewide office.
Honestly, I don’t know if there will be any other serious contenders than former state representative (and first woman Majority Leader) Kim McMillan, and I’ll be interested to see how she makes the case, other than explicitly, that someone who previously supported a state income tax can win statewide office in Tennessee. Is it possible that a pro-income-tax progressive consensus could emerge that could push her past Berke’s redefinition of Democrats? I see that as almost as unlikely as her using her past support as an asset rather than a liability in the first place.
I suppose I should mention Lincoln Davis, as he has done some preliminary positioning. His name being in the hat would certainly increase tensions about the direction of the party. Having treated Obama in the Republican-lite mode, his was not an uncommon approach to Democratic presidential punditry in Tennessee, and that mode hasn’t served the party well at the ballot box since we’re in a state flush with real live Republicans who are certainly not fat-free.
And it almost pains me to mention Harold Ford, Jr. because I haven’t seen any indication that he’s serious about governance, although his name has come up in conversations about the race. I’m hopeful that Frist’s bowing out doesn’t increase the prospects that HaFo enters the race.
As much as I’d like to see the Democratic primary campaign generate broader statewide interest, I suspect that, should Haslam demonstrate grade-A gangsterism in the Republican primary, the race will be his to lose. The post-Kurita TNDP is unlikely to find a revolutionary in either Charles Robert Bone or Chip Forrester that truly speaks to Lamar!’s grand divisions broadly, so the rebuilding of the state party is likely to take more than a single election cycle, especially after the presidential, U.S. Senate, and General Assembly races we witnessed in 2008. And with Andy Berke one of few people in Tennessee Democratic politics willing to play the game on someone other than Bill Hobbs’s turf, the number of skilled messengers is likely to remain too few to allow him a realistic shot at the governor’s mansion. Regardless, I’d like to see a spirited contest between him and McMillan, as I think they might be able to point the way for the next iteration of the TNDP, especially since each will be based outside of Nashville.
SEE ALSO: Kleinheider