NASHVILLE — Democratic millionaire businessman Bill Freeman said Thursday he has no interest in running for the U.S. Senate next year, then went on to praise former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who isn't considering it, while also complimenting the lone announced Democrat in the contest, Nashville attorney James Mackler.
Freeman, who spent $4.5 million in 2015 on an unsuccessful Nashville mayoral bid, said in a statement that was the "only office that I've had the desire, passion and personal interest to pursue.
"I don't have that same desire to serve at the national level," he said.
A major supporter of the Tennessee Democratic Party, Freeman famously feuded with Bredesen when he was governor. But the pair later patched up things.
In addition to Mackler, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, a former state Democratic senator, and state Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro and Rep. John Ray Clemmons, both Nashville, are eyeing the contest.
Freeman said he believes it's "less important who wins this seat than the important need that the winning candidate holds a proper perspective on leadership."
He called it "vital that we all collectively see the importance of a balanced perspective and that the candidate who ultimately fills the position should have the mandate of putting the needs of our state and country above the need to stroke their partisan ideological platforms."
Earlier in the day, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said he would not run for the Senate seat now held by long-time friend and fellow Republican Bob Corker of Chattanooga.
That spurred a series of Republican dominoes to fall in place. Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood quickly announced she will seek the seat that Corker last week ruled out running for again
Following Blackburn's announcement, in which she proudly described herself as a "hard-core, card-carrying Tennessee conservative. I'm politically incorrect and proud of it," both Mackler's campaign and Berke himself weighed in.
"Congresswoman Blackburn voted for the House's healthcare bill that would have had devastating effects for people with pre-existing conditions and sent premiums for everyone else sky-rocketing," the Mackler campaign said. "While Tennesseans saw one rural hospital close after another, Congresswoman Blackburn voted to cut Medicaid."
Berke tweeted of Blackburn that "Instead of someone who proudly talks about being outside the mainstream TN really needs a US Senator who is focused on progress for the middle class -- jobs, wages, healthcare and education."
Former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., continues to weigh a bid. Meanwhile, state Sen. Mark Green announced he will run for Blackburn's seat.
In his statement, Freeman said, "We have been blessed in Tennessee with many leaders who put the needs of all their constituents first — not just the ones who share the same political party. And these leaders have come from both parties, that's undeniable."
Freeman called it "fair to say" that both Corker and Haslam "have exhibited this notable trait. They have continually worked to put the needs of their constituents ahead of partisan politics, and this is something to be admired."
Regarding Bredesen, Freeman described him as "the first and only" elected Democratic leader who has exhibited that in office in recent years. Bredesen, he said, "is in a class by himself."
Turning to Mackler, Freeman said, "The same can be said" for the for the Democratic candidate "who has pledged to provide the best he can provide if elected to this vital seat. And his best will be considerable. A veteran of the Iraq War, a former member of the 101st Airborne and local attorney, he has pledged, in his own words, 'to restore respect, honesty, and most importantly, integrity in Washington.'"
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com.