With nearly two years to go before the general election, four candidates officially are in the running to be Tennessee's next governor, making the state race nearly as long as 2008's presidential campaign.
"This is a marathon, not a sprint," said U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who announced his candidacy for governor Monday.
The 2008 presidential race kicked off about two years before Election Day, with most candidates announcing the formation of exploratory committees in November and December 2006. U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., formally announced their runs in February 2007.
Along with Rep. Wamp, Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam also entered the GOP's gubernatorial contest this week. They all entered the race after former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., announced he would not run.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, also has said he may enter the race.
Former state Rep. Kim McMillan, D-Clarksville, is the only Democrat formally to enter the race so far, though U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., and state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, have expressed interest.
Ms. McMillan and Mr. Gibbons could not be reached for comment Friday.
When Mr. Haslam came to Chattanooga on Tuesday to announce his candidacy, he said long campaigns simply are how 21st century politics operates.
"That's the way the world works now," he said.
Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said there are other clear reasons for candidates, especially those who are not well-known statewide, to get an early start.
"They have two problems to face," he said. "One is building name recognition. The other is showing capacity to raise money for the primary."
Mr. Haslam hinted that he is aiming to build name recognition when he said the 19-month stretch between his announcement and the August primary will give him a chance "to let people know who we are."
Likewise, Rep. Wamp said it is "important to raise a legitimate amount of money" and to introduce himself to Tennesseans.
Likewise, Dr. Oppenheimer said the early start may be a way for already-announced candidates to keep opponents out of the race. It also may bring volunteers to campaigns that get their operations started early, he said.
Former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., who ran a statewide race for U.S. Senate in 2006 and has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate, has said it's too early to start talking about the race.
Tennessee's race is getting started a couple of months earlier than it did eight years ago, the last time candidates were vying for an open seat. Then-Gov. Don Sundquist could not run again because of term limits, the same situation facing Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2010.
In the 2002 race, U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., a well-known figure as is Dr. Frist, exited the contest in mid-February 2001. But candidates waited until spring to announce their runs.
Tennessee isn't the only state in which the 2010 race for chief executive is heating up. In Georgia, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine have had exploratory committees for several months.
According to The Associated Press, California, Michigan and Kansas are a few of the other states in which candidates have announced bids for governor in the 2010 race.