Democrat Phil Bredesen, left, speaks as Republican Jim Douglas listens at Guerry Auditorium at Sewanee: University of the South on Tuesday. Bredesen and Douglas discussed the polarization of American politics and the necessity of bridging gaps between political aisles.Photo by Alex Washburn.
Senior at Sewanee University John Richards asks a question of Phil Bredesen (former democratic governor of Tennessee) and Jim Douglas (former republican governor of Vermont) in Guerry Auditorium at Sewanee University on Tuesday. Bredesen and Douglas discussed the polarization of American politics and the necessity of bridging social gaps between political aisles.
SEWANEE, Tenn. — Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said he will campaign for President Barack Obama, describing him as "certainly re-electable," but he chided fellow Democrats seeking to regain control at the state level.
"If all you're going to do is channel a 30-year-old idea of what the party is and channel what's going on nationally, you're not going to be successful," Bredesen, 67, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press before a Tuesday evening appearance here at the University of the South.
His remarks followed the release of a Middle Tennessee State University poll that suggests a conservative shift for an already red state.
Nearly two-thirds of the state's residents disapprove of Obama's job performance, up from 52 percent last spring, and a majority would vote for a Republican nominee, according to the Tennessean.
"The left's not going to abandon Obama," Bredesen said. "A few of them might stay home ... but the middle is where stuff's going to be won and lost."
The two-term former governor pitched a broader version of that message to an estimated 400 Sewanee: University of the South students and faculty as he and former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, promoted compromise and moderate policy stances.
Aside from Douglas wearing a red tie and Bredesen sporting a blue one, party stereotypes left the building early as both men walked a centrist line.
"I think there can be partisanship in the positive sense of articulating a different view, but eventually the people's business has to be accomplished, and that's what's not happening in Washington," Douglas said.
Pragmatism found a believer in at least one student. Brittany Macon, a 19-year-old political science major from Little Rock, Ark., said the constant re-election cycle fosters Washington inertia, but she remained hopeful.
"The fact that we see something messed up doesn't really disengage us from going [toward politics]," she said. "It kind of pushes us toward it saying, 'OK. What can I do to fix it?'"
Despite recent polling that suggests he could beat U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in a hypothetical head-to-head, Bredesen insisted the political bug has left his system, adding that appearances like Tuesday's allow him to keep his hand in.
"I truly have no intention of ever running for public office again," he said. "Nothing I'm doing has the mark of getting set up for some race in the future."