By Michael Davis Staff Writer
Van Hilleary said Tuesday that high name identification earned during his unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial bid should give him an advantage over a Republican challenger in the Aug. 3 U.S. Senate primary.
Mr. Hilleary, who lost to Democrat Phil Bredesen in the governors race, said he has an edge over Ed Bryant as the conservative to take on former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker in August.
"All I ask you to do is to check out where we start out in this race," Mr. Hilleary, a former U.S. representative, told the Hamilton County Republican Womens Club.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginias Center for Politics, said it is unwise for Mr. Hilleary to highlight a statewide race he lost.
"Candidates always look for an edge over their opponents," Dr. Sabato said. "(But) sometimes the edge is a double-edged sword, and this is a classic case of that."
Mr. Hilleary said in an interview that "theres an argument to be made" for suggesting that references to his 2002 loss could be a political liability. However, a number of Tennessee politicians have lost races and gone on to future wins, he said.
Bryant campaign spokesman Andrew Shulman said fiscal and social conservatives have united behind Mr. Bryant for the Republican nomination.
"In 2002, Van Hilleary proved he could spend $8 million and still lose to a conservative-talking Democrat," he said.
Mr. Bryant lost a statewide race of his own in 2002 when Lamar Alexander defeated the then-congressman in the Republican U.S. Senate primary for the seat being vacated by then-Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.
Mr. Corker lost the 1994 Republican U.S. Senate primary to Bill Frist, who is now the Senate majority leader but is not seeking re-election.
Both Mr. Bryant and Mr. Hilleary have used much of this race to paint themselves as conservatives battling Mr. Corker, whom theyve characterized as a liberal and wrong on taxes and abortion.
Mr. Hilleary told the womens club Tuesday that voters should elect someone who will "stick to their guns" and "not be a hypocrite."
Corker campaign manager Ben Mitchell said all three candidates in the GOP primary oppose abortion rights, favor low taxes and support gun rights.
"I think the conservative vote is something all three candidates are competing for," he said.
The winner of the Republican primary is expected to face U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., the only major Democratic candidate left in the Senate primary, in the Nov. 7 general election.
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