published Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Governor hopefuls’ attacks punch voters’ hot buttons

NASHVILLE — Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey’s 2002 vote for a 1 cent state sales tax increase as a Tennessee legislator isn’t sitting well with voters: 52 percent say they are less likely to vote for him because of that.

But a new Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey of 625 likely voters indicates most are swallowing Democrat Mike McWherter’s ownership of a beer distributorship with far fewer reservations. Only 13 percent said it will make them less likely to vote for the Jackson businessman in November.

The poll, conducted for the Tennessee Newspaper Network, examined various lines of attack used by candidates vying in the Aug. 5 Republican primary and Nov. 2 election. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The survey found attacks by Lt. Gov. Ramsey, R-Blountville, and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., on GOP primary front-runner Bill Haslam over a 2008 episode were having some effect.

Forty-six percent of voters said they were less likely to vote for Knoxville Mayor Haslam over allegations of gas-gouging by the Haslam family’s Pilot Travel Centers in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

Pilot settled with the state on overcharges at four stations but never admitted deliberate price-gouging.

Similarly, 37 percent of voters were less likely to vote for Rep. Wamp because he voted for the 2008 bank bailout legislation known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

Candidates answer

Lt. Gov. Ramsey, the state Senate speaker, said there’s more to the story of his support for a penny sales tax in 2002 that amounted to the largest tax increase in state history.

He said Republican Gov. Don Sundquist and legislative allies were determined to pass a state income tax. The sales tax became opponents’ alternative, he said.

“I’m convinced that with that vote we literally drove the stake through the heart of an income tax forever coming in to the state of Tennessee,” he said.

“There’s not a soul out there when you explain to people ... who doesn’t think we did right on that,” he said.

Mr. Haslam said Pilot’s problems came out of a “timing error” involving deliveries. He said there were only four problems in 1,500 loads during the time of scarcity. The company installed a new computer program “so it won’t happen again,” he said.

Tennessee Newspaper Network

The Tennessee Newspaper Network is a collaborative news-gathering venture of the state’s four largest newspapers — the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Memphis Commercial Appeal and The Tennessean — to provide coverage of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

“Typically when I have a chance to explain what happened in the situation, people go, ‘OK, I get it, and I understand,’” Mr. Haslam said. “But it’s a little hard to explain in a 10-second sound bite.”

Regarding his TARP vote, Rep. Wamp said, “I voted no on all of the seven TARP-related issues, all of the bailouts except for the second. I have made a compelling case about the second time, when I thought we were about to go off a cliff, and we really were at risk of going into a severe depression.”

He accused his opponents of trying to mislead voters with “wild allegations” by contending he voted for measures such as the $787 billion stimulus bill, which he said he did not.

Rep. Wamp said he was urged by a number of Tennessee business owners to vote for the TARP plan. And he said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., had “tremendous influence in talking us through what the consequences would be” if it didn’t pass.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Most in GOP support tea party agenda

Article: Haslam leads GOP field in governor’s race

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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