Tennessee: Wamp running for governor; Berke weighing race

Tennessee: Wamp running for governor; Berke weighing race

January 6th, 2009 by Matt Wilson and Andy Sher in Local Regional News

Tennessee's 2010 governor's race kicked into high gear Monday with U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., declaring he will run for the Republican nomination while Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam plans to announce his intentions during a statewide tour that begins today.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, confirmed he is exploring a gubernatorial bid. And U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., continues to weigh a race, but a spokesman suggests it may be "months" before he makes a decision.

The Republican side of the race began quickly shaping up less than 24 hours after former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., announced he would not run, freeing up would-be hopefuls who had put their ambitions on hold pending Dr. Frist's decision.

Rep. Wamp, a Chattanoogan who has represented the 3rd Congressional District since 1995, joins Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, who announced Sunday he was getting into the GOP primary race.

"While so much is good in Tennessee, I know in my heart we can continue to do better," Rep. Wamp said in a statement. "From education, economic development, infrastructure and transportation to safer cities and healthier children, I will lead our state with vision, planning and implementation while setting goals and achieving results for a better Tennessee."

Rep. Wamp said he plans to file paperwork to begin raising money.

Just before he flew to Washington, D.C., to be sworn in for his eighth term in Congress, Rep. Wamp spoke to the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club, telling the GOP group that he needs "all hands on deck" in his gubernatorial push.

"We're going to light 6 million fires," he vowed.

Alluding to Mr. Haslam, whose family founded the Pilot Corp. national chain of travel centers and are major GOP fundraisers, Rep. Wamp said, "I'm probably going to be outspent. But I won't be outworked."

Sen. Berke, an attorney who was elected during a special election in November 2007 and re-elected in November 2008, said he, too, is considering a run.

"I've been traveling around the state and everywhere the story is the same," Sen. Berke said. "Tennesseans are worried about their jobs, their kids' education and their ability to go see the doctor that they want. I'm looking for the best role for me to provide leadership and help to the people of our state in this tough time."

Rep. Davis' decision on whether he will run "will be made in the coming months after carefully weighing how best to serve his district and the people of Tennessee," spokesman Tom Hayden said.

Mr. Haslam, meanwhile, already has retained Jeremy Harrell, who served as U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's 2008 campaign coordinator, to help "organize" a campaign, Mr. Harrell confirmed.

Mr. Haslam is expected to meet today with reporters in Knoxville, the Tri-Cities and on Rep. Wamp's home turf in Chattanooga. Similar events are planned Wednesday in Nashville and West Tennessee, Mr. Harrell said.

"He's going to say at that time what his intentions are," Mr. Harrell said.

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, R-Tenn., is expected to throw his support to Mr. Haslam.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who is the state Senate speaker, said he remains "very, very interested in running for governor." But noting the General Assembly convenes a week from today and must address what may be a $1 billion budget shortfall, Lt. Gov. Ramsey said he will not make any announcement until nearer the close of the legislative session.

"I know the gun has gone off ... but two years is an eternity in politics," Lt. Gov. Ramsey said.

Attorney General Gibbons, one-time legal counsel to then-Gov. Alexander in the 1970s and 1980s, said he is focusing on law-and-order issues as well as education. Mr. Gibbons is the lone West Tennessean in the race so far while Lt. Gov. Ramsey, Rep. Wamp and Mr. Haslam are all from East Tennessee.