U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp told a large crowd of supporters Friday that one of the things he's most thankful for is their prayers and called his gubernatorial run "a spiritual journey."
On Friday, Rep. Wamp, R-Tenn., finished an 11-stop campaign kickoff tour in Chattanooga with remarks at the Hamilton County Courthouse, where he said his new motto is "knees down, chin up." He told the crowd that prayer, along with family, vision and his supporters will serve as an "equalizer" in the race.
The Chattanooga congressman argued that the gubernatorial campaign of fellow Republican Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam has spent nearly $2 million in the race so far. He said the governor's race is "emerging as a two-person race" between him and Mr. Haslam.
David Smith, spokesman for Mr. Haslam's campaign, said they weren't counting out any candidates.
"Last time we checked, there were four candidates in the Republican primary," he said. "We're comfortable letting the voters sort it out."
On the faith issue, Mr. Smith said prayer plays "a large role" in the Haslam campaign.
"Bill and his wife, Crissy, spent considerable time praying about running for governor and, in the end, felt led in that direction," he said.
Brad Todd, spokesman for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville and another gubernatorial candidate, took exception to the assertion that only Rep. Wamp and Mr. Haslam are contenders.
"It's laughable to hear the candidate who is in third place in gathering support around the state suggest that it's just a two-man race," he said. "Lt. Gov. Ramsey respects all three of his Republican opponents and he's confident he will win this race whether there are two, three, four, or 50 other candidates."
Josh Thomas, campaign manager for Republican Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, another GOP candidate for the governor's job, said Rep. Wamp's own polling shows "a wide-open race."
"Mr. Gibbons' personal story as a self-made man is inspiring, and being the only candidate west of Chattanooga is certainly helpful," Mr. Thomas said.
In regard to Rep. Wamp's prayer statement, Mr. Todd said Lt. Gov. Ramsey's "faith is the source of his strength," while Mr. Thomas said prayer is "an integral part of all of (Mr. Gibbons') life."
On the Democratic side, Mike Kopp, spokesman for candidate Mike McWherter, said Mr. McWherter is focusing on the Democratic primary first.
"What's emerging on the other side of the political aisle is of little concern to our campaign at this time," he said.
Rep. Wamp filed paperwork Friday to officially qualify for the governor's race. The deadline for filing qualifying petitions for state races is April 1.
Mr. Kopp said Mr. McWherter is a "devout Christian," but "has not chosen to wear it on his political sleeve."
Spokesmen for the campaigns of former U.S. Rep. Kim McMillan, D-Clarksville, and state Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, could not be reached for comment.