published Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Tennessee: Prominent Democrats still undecided about gubernatorial race

by Herman Wang

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WASHINGTON — While the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary in Tennessee already is in full swing, the Democratic field still is filling out.

So far, former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan and Nashville businessman Ward Cammack are in.

But several prominent Democrats remain on the sidelines, still weighing whether to wade into the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who cannot run again because of term limits.

They include former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.; former Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Doug Horne; state economic and community development commissioner Matt Kisber; state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga; and businessman Mike McWherter, of Jackson, Tenn., who is the son of former Gov. Ned McWherter. State Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, of Memphis, also is weighing a race, as is state Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Roy Herron, of Dresden, and state House Democratic leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville.

“There hasn’t been a whole lot of movement,” said U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., who himself turned down a gubernatorial run and says he has no plans to endorse anyone yet. “With the economy the way it is, I think folks are sitting back and analyzing how they can resolve that as governor. Even raising money is going to be tough.”

Marcus Pohlmann, a political science professor at Rhodes College, said defeating a Republican likely will take a big-name Democrat with strong fundraising credentials.

Republicans in the race include U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.; Knox County Mayor Bill Haslam; Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons.

Tennessee voted heavily for GOP presidential candidate John McCain in 2008, and Republicans also captured majorities in both state houses for the first time since Reconstruction.

“Given the recent track record of Democrats statewide, except for Bredesen, it does look problematic, unless the Democrats can come up with a unique candidate,” Dr. Pohlmann said.

But other Democrats point out that Gov. Bredesen captured all 95 counties in his re-election bid in 2006.

“Tennesseans can’t be hog-tied or misled by ideologues on left or right,” Rep. Davis said. “It’s who’s going to capture the hearts of Tennesseans, who’s going to gain their trust.”

Gov. Bredesen said he will not endorse anybody in the primary. He said the key for a Democratic victory in the general election is to reach out to Republicans and independents.

“We’ve always been fortunate in having good people step forward in both parties in our state,” he said. “I’ve always felt the trick for Democrats is to talk straight with the people and show you can work across the aisle, not be overly partisan.”

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