NASHVILLE — When he first ran for the state's top office four years ago, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says it was not exactly a "safe bet" he would win.
But kicking off his bid for a second term Saturday, Haslam, 55, appears to be about as safe as he can be in the uncertain world of politics.
He's got a record he's happy to run on, $5 million in the bank, polls showing a 58 percent job-approval rating and only token opposition in the GOP primary and general election.
A thousand or so supporters joined Haslam for the launch at Nashville's famed Loveless Cafe on the outskirts of town.
Haslam's speech largely focused on his accomplishments, ticking off the nation's fastest-improving student test scores last year, successes in economic recruitment and passage of his first-in-the-nation free community college program.
"Our promise to you is we're not going to let up," Haslam vowed to the cheering crowd, which included some Democrats.
But in his speech and later in comments later to reporters, Haslam was scant with details on where he intends to go in a second term, referring generally to economic development and education.
He vowed there won't be an income tax proposal -- state voters in August will consider a constitutional ban on it -- and he won't try to raise the state's sales tax.
As for a possible gas tax hike, Haslam said, "It's just way too early to say any of those things."
The governor does have his critics. Democratic candidate John McKamey, a one-time Sullivan County executive, may be the best known of the Democrats running, although polling shows he has little support.
A retired educator, McKamey faults Haslam and the GOP-dominated General Assembly for an education overhaul with too much emphasis on student testing. And he said Haslam has done little to stand up to hard-right Republicans in the Legislature.
"Not taking control of his party," McKamey chided. People across the country say, "What on earth are you doing there in Tennessee? ... It's embarrassing."
Haslam has had his problems with Republican lawmakers, who this year forced a one-year delay in the implementation of new tests for Common Core education standards and some of whom are preaching more independence.
Haslam downplays such activity, saying he has no problem with lawmakers and is largely interested in getting to the "right answer."
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, has differed with Haslam over how much tax money to spend on sending low-income children to private schools. But Kelsey, who was at Saturday's event, said he is "100 percent" behind Haslam.
"The governor has done a wonderful job of managing this state and its budget, and balancing the budget and cutting taxes at the same time," Kelsey said.
Also present was former Democratic state Rep. Gene Caldwell, a retired Oak Ridge pediatrician, who said that "there ain't no Democrat that's going to run -- or win."
"And I just like how he's running the government," Caldwell said, citing improved test scores and Haslam's free community college program.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.
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, ...