NASHVILLE — U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., and Bill Haslam, the man who defeated him in the August Republican gubernatorial primary, broke bread together and made their peace over lunch last week.
“We met ... for a little over an hour,” Wamp, a Chattanoogan, said of Friday’s lunch at Flatwater Grill in Oak Ridge, Tenn. “My report is, it was very cordial, a very good hour. We are 100 percent reconciled, he and I.”
Haslam, who is Knoxville’s mayor, said, “Our conversation was focused on the future of Tennessee and how we can work together to make it the best it can be.”
Haslam defeated Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, in the GOP nomination. He took 47 percent of the vote versus 29 percent for Wamp and 22 percent for Ramsey.
Both Wamp and Ramsey sought support from the more conservative wing of the GOP, but the Haslam/Wamp debate became increasingly harsh toward campaign’s end.
Haslam and his supporters have reached out over the last month to disappointed or angry Wamp and Ramsey backers.
“I think 98 percent of the people, their response has been terrific and a lot of those folks, like I said, reached out to me,” Haslam said.
Democratic nominee Mike McWherter has said he hopes to draw off some disaffected Republican voters and has played up his support on a number of gun rights issues in that effort.
McWherter spokesman Shelby White noted that “over 381,000 people voted against Bill Haslam in the Republican primary, and everyday Tennesseans do not trust him when he says he has their best interests at heart.”
Onboard the train
Not every Wamp or Ramsey supporter has been won over.
“I hope you will see this defeat as what it is,” Wamp supporter Gail Forsythe wrote on Wamp’s campaign Facebook page. “The RINO [Republican in Name Only] with the deep pockets won because the conservative vote was split.”
When one supporter suggested a Wamp write-in effort in the Nov. 2 general election, backer Annette Sapp quickly jumped in with continued support of the congressman who put his religious views front and center in the campaign.
“God led me to Zach and has not led me in a different direction,” she wrote. “We need to organize a write in.”
But Corky Coker, a conservative Chattanooga businessman and longtime supporter and friend of Wamp, says he’s one of those who is moving on.
Though Wamp’s loss “kind of broke my heart,” Coker said he is helping Haslam with a local fundraiser in coming weeks.
Some leaders in Tennessee’s tea party movement haven’t come around, either. They said he avoided strong talk in the primary about states’ rights and Arizona’s anti-immigration legislation.
Haslam also came under fire by conservatives for raising property taxes in his first year as Knoxville’s mayor and for his membership in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He quit the group during the campaign, contending it went in a direction that he was not comfortable with.
Many tea party activists went all out for Ramsey, including Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, a Nashville attorney.
Phillips said he thinks Haslam “just doesn’t care about the tea party vote.”
“I think in their equation, they’re just [saying] ‘Well, the tea party movement went all out for Ramsey. I crushed Ron Ramsey, therefore, the heck with these people. I don’t need them,’” Phillips said.
Last month, tea party activist Mark Skoda, of Memphis, said that when he and others had met with Haslam, the candidate was “unequivocal” about Second Amendment rights, opposition to an income tax and “the need to reject the expansion of the federal government.”
“I believed him and will work to hold him accountable to his representations,” Skoda said. “In that context, I will also support him during November and will ask my members to do the same.”
Both Haslam and McWherter have reached out to gun groups.
John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association said the group, which backed Ramsey in the primary, has invited both candidates to speak. He’s not sure the association will make an endorsement.
“I think people are looking at these two candidates as not that far apart on gun issues,” Harris said.
Wamp has endorsed Haslam and says he feels much better about things now.
Over lunch, he said, they talked about their families. And Haslam asked for more details about Wamp’s economic development and health platforms, as well as about high-tech companies and other issues in Oak Ridge, a city with major federal installations that Wamp represents in Congress.
“Campaigns are bruising,” Wamp said. “I’m sure I said things that ruffled their feathers, and I’m sure they said a lot of things that ruffled mine.”
But he said he doesn’t see McWherter making much headway among “hardcore conservatives.”
“He [Haslam] is going to be Tennessee’s 49th governor,” Wamp said.
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, ...