GOP's Bill Ketron still wild card in Tennessee 4th District Congress race

GOP's Bill Ketron still wild card in Tennessee 4th District Congress race

January 21st, 2012 by Andy Sher in News

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, speaks outside the Senate chamber in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

When state Republican lawmakers made major changes to Tennessee's 4th Congressional District during redistricting, it was widely assumed that it was done at the insistence of state Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro.

Ketron had publicly said he wanted his home county, Rutherford, in the 4th, which immediately made any credible candidate from Rutherford a threat in a GOP primary to freshman U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., who is from Jasper.

Ketron expressed interest in running. But more than a week after the General Assembly passed the congressional redistricting map, Ketron has yet to make a definitive move, GOP insiders say.

Time is ticking - the Aug. 2 GOP primary is less than seven months out. If Ketron is serious, he needs to move quickly and begin fundraising and fielding a credible campaign team, fellow Republicans say.

In a recent interview prior to the bill's passage, Ketron said he was "still looking at it. I've just got a lot of responsibilities in leadership right now ... Still have some time to review and look at it."

Ketron declined to comment on quick moves by DesJarlais, who as redistricting began moving, announced he had some $436,000 in cash on hand.

Meanwhile, DesJarlais is continuing to march briskly. He was in Murfreesboro last week, chatting up Ketron's hometown newspaper. The new district shears off many of the Upper Cumberland counties DesJarlais now represents and some Middle Tennessee counties filled with people who know him.

It also now includes Rhea, Meigs and a portion of Bradley County.

Romney support

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney continues to pile up endorsements from prominent Republicans in Tennessee, a state that could be largely irrelevant yet again if the GOP primary is decided by the time its March primary arrives.

This week, state House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, announced she is backing Romney. She joins a growing list that includes Gov. Bill Haslam, three of the state's seven GOP congressman and state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

Haslam hemmed and hawed for months about what he would do, even in a Tennessean interview just hours before the Romney campaign announced his support. Of course, Republicans already knew he would since Haslam family members had already contributed to Romney.

State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, meanwhile, is sitting on the sidelines since his favored candidate, Rick Perry, bowed out.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich's campaign this week announced its leadership team for Tennessee. The list includes Mark Winslow as political director.

Winslow is a former Tennessee Republican Party chief of staff and worked for his former boss - onetime state GOP Chairman Robin Smith - in her fiercely contested GOP primary fight in 2010 with Chuck Fleischman for the 3rd Congressional District nomination.

Winslow has since sued both Fleischman and Fleischman's chief of staff, Chip Saltsman, charging he was slandered in the campaign.

No word yet on whom Fleischman and Saltsman are backing for president.