By Andy Sher
Having lost Hamilton County in two previous statewide bids, Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and his supporters hope the third attempt is different as he runs for re-election this year.
“I hope to do well there,” Gov. Bredesen said Wednesday after he began the second day of a four-day re-election announcement tour with a rally at Chattanooga’s Miller Plaza. “But it’s way early to make predictions.”
If Gov. Bredesen wins in Hamilton County, he would become only the second Democratic gubernatorial candidate to do so in 36 years, according to election information in the Tennessee Blue Book, a state-published compilation of facts and information.
Then-Gov. Ned McWherter won Hamilton County in 1990 when he was seeking re-election against a little known GOP challenger, then-state Rep. Dwight Henry, of Cookeville, Tenn. Mr. McWherter lost the county in 1986 but won that year’s gubernatorial election.
Other than that election, gubernatorial Democratic candidates have been on a losing streak in Hamilton since 1970 when Republican Winfield Dunn defeated Democrat John Jay Hooker statewide.
Former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey predicted Gov. Bredesen will win the county this year.
“I really believe he’s the greatest governor the state of Tennessee has ever seen, and I believe that Hamilton Countians understand that,” said Mr. Kinsey, a businessman, developer and former Chattanooga mayor. “He has shown that he cares about the needs of Hamilton County by the time he’s spent here.”
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Bobby Wood said Hamilton is a very strong Republican county.
He said state Sen. Jim Bryson, a Republican candidate for governor, is just beginning to put together his campaign.
“I think there is a very good chance Bryson will carry Hamilton County, although I believe it will be close,” Mr. Wood said.
The governor could face problems from disgruntled Democrats over TennCare cuts and “errors” that Bredesen appointees made, Mr. Wood said.
Democrat Roger Dickson said Hamilton County voters will cast their ballots for qualified candidates.
“If it’s a good Republican, they’ll vote for a good Republican,” Mr. Dickson said. “If it’s a good Democrat, they’ll vote for a good Democrat.”
During the Miller Plaza rally, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, a Bredesen supporter, said the crowd was bipartisan.
Gary Gerbitz, a Republican and former Hamilton County Criminal Court judge and district attorney, commended Gov. Bredesen.
“I think he’s honest, and he’s intelligent,” Mr. Gerbitz said. “I think that he’s driving the train in the right direction.”
Jo Ann Yates, of Lookout Mountain, attended the rally and said she is impressed by Gov. Bredesen’s advocacy for children.
“I like his programs,” said Ms. Yates, who serves on the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.
Sen. Ward Crutchfield, D-Chattanooga, said Republicans were late in fielding a candidate. Close to the qualifying deadline, state Republican leaders convinced Sen. Bryson, R-Franklin, to seek the party’s nomination in the Aug. 3 GOP primary.
In his first bid for governor in 1974, Republican Lamar Alexander lost the statewide contest to Democrat Ray Blanton but won Hamilton County by a 32,500 to 25,900 margin.
In 1978, Mr. Alexander, now a U.S. senator, won the statewide gubernatorial contest over Democrat Jake Butcher and carried Hamilton County with 38,300 votes to 26,700 for Mr. Butcher. In 1982, then-Gov. Alexander defeated Knoxville Mayor Randy Tyree in Hamilton County by a margin of 47,300 votes to 27,000.
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