published Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Country singers stump for Wamp

by Matt Wilson
Audio clip

Zach Wamp

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., is looking to a group of Tennessee residents not usually associated with politics to help him in his campaign for governor: Country singers.

"It is clearly a great equalizer in a campaign where I'm going to raise enough money to win, but not the most money," the Chattanooga congressman said. "In my opinion, the music industry is Tennessee."

Rep. Wamp said he's going on "kind of a new rail in Tennessee politics" by reaching out to musicians.

"To have people like this who do have an appeal that kind of transcends both parties and transcends the world of politics and government is really positive," he said.

Bruce Oppenheimer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, said celebrity endorsements help Rep. Wamp get "free, positive media attention" and can help him raise money, two things every campaign is in the market for right now.

The endorsements, however, may not affect voting behavior directly.


Some of the country and Christian musicians who have contributed to U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp's gubernatorial campaign:

* Larry Gatlin

* Michael W. Smith

* John Rich

* Gretchen Wilson

* The Oak Ridge Boys

* Ray Stevens

* Naomi Judd

"I don't know that too many people take their political cues from these folks," he said.

Mark Cate, campaign manager for Knoxville Mayor and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam, said the focus of the campaign should be issues.

"(Country star appearances) may be entertaining, but the voters really want to know which candidate can best lead our state through very tough economic times, help improve our schools and ensure good-paying jobs for all of our citizens," he said. "We believe that's Bill Haslam."

Brad Todd, a spokesman for the gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said, "It's not unusual for campaigns to seek outside help to draw (support)," he said.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey is enough of a celebrity draw himself to gain attention, Mr. Todd said.

Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, another Republican hopeful, said through a spokeswoman that such support from celebrities "no doubt draws people to events that may not otherwise be present."

"It probably doesn't have any impact on how people vote, though," he said.

Joe Kirkpatrick, also running in the GOP primary, said he couldn't see a direct problem with getting country stars involved in the campaign, but also saw a correlation with national politics.

"Republicans complain constantly about Hollywood being involved in elections," he said. "I don't see this as any different."

In October, country singer John Rich hosted a fundraiser for Rep. Wamp at his home, where singer Gretchen Wilson also performed. Rep. Wamp said singer Naomi Judd would be joining him in Chattanooga for a January event.

His brother, Louie Wamp, is a dobro player who has performed with several country and bluegrass groups.

Three Democrats are running for governor as well: Former state Rep. Kim McMillan, D-Clarksvile; state Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, and Mike McWherter, son of former Gov. Ned McWherter.

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