By Andy Sher
NASHVILLE —; Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen said he feels good about his prospects for re-election this year but anticipates a serious challenge from expected GOP foe state Sen. Jim Bryson, R-Franklin.
“You never take anything for granted,” Gov. Bredesen told Cookeville, Tenn., area supporters last week during a four-day re-election announcement tour.
Gov. Bredesen, a 62-year-old self-made millionaire and Harvard University graduate, reflected on the differences between losing the governor’s race in 1994, narrowly winning in 2002 and this year’s race.
“It’s better to run as an incumbent,” he said.
However, Lance Frizzell, a Bryson campaign spokesman, said Gov. Bredesen is vulnerable.
“I think there’s certainly openings on the fact that the governor has kicked (tens of thousands) off of health care on his watch,” Mr. Frizzell said.
He was referring to the disenrollment of non-Medicaid adults from the TennCare program over the past year.
“I think people are wondering why state troopers were hired, fired and promoted based on what looks like campaign contributions,” Mr. Frizzell said. “And I think there’s a feeling that many of the departments are run that way.”
The Tennessee Highway Patrol’s top three officials resigned last year after news reports described a culture of political favoritism and allegations of ticket-fixing. Several troopers were promoted after contributing to the 2002 Bredesen campaign.
Chris Devaney, the Tennessee Republican Party’s executive director, said he is optimistic about Sen. Bryson and predicted he will be competitive in the gubernatorial election and raise between $1 million and $3 million.
Gov. Bredesen, meanwhile, has at least $4 million in campaign cash and is prepared to raise up to $8 million more, said Will Pinkston, a campaign spokesman.
Campaigning last week, Gov. Bredesen plugged what he said was his fiscally responsible approach to government, his record of balancing budgets and creation of the largest reserve fund in state history.
There have been tough issues, such as TennCare, he said. The administration estimates that 170,000 adults were removed from the health care program. The cuts were needed to stop the unsustainable spending growth the program created, he said.
The governor promised to do more in areas such as K-12, higher education and Cover Tennessee, his newly enacted health insurance access program.
Bredesen supporter Karen Stevens of Baxter, Tenn., attended the Cookeville rally. She said she likes what the governor has done in areas such as education but is angry about TennCare.
“My mother got kicked off TennCare,” she said.
An independent poll conducted May 12-14 by SurveyUSA on behalf of WBIR-TV in Knoxville, shows 51 percent of 600 adult Tennesseans surveyed approved of Gov. Bredesen’s job performance, while 44 percent did not. Among Democrats, 47 percent approved of the governor’s performance, while 51 percent disapproved.
The poll has a 4.1 percent margin of error.
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Gov. Phil Bredesen
* Age: 62
* Experience: Founded HealthAmerica Corp., a health care management business, which was sold in 1986
* Elected positions: Mayor of Nashville, 1991-1999; governor, 2003-present
* Party: Democratic
* Residence: Nashville
State Sen. Jim Bryson
* Age: 44
* Experience: Founder of 20/20 Research, Inc., a market research company
* Elected positions: state senator for 23rd District, 2003-present
* Party: Republican
* Residence: Franklin, Tenn.
Source: Bredesen and Bryson campaign and government Web sites