NASHVILLE -- Major Republican candidates for governor are downplaying the huge fundraising advantage that GOP rival Bill Haslam now enjoys over the 2010 field.
"He's not going to win," U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said Saturday of Mr. Haslam. "He's just going to spend a lot of money. But we're right on track and will maintain a real strong pace on the money side and raise all the money we need to reach 500,000 (GOP primary voters). There'll be a lot of money wasted in this race."
Mr. Haslam recently reported having raised $3.8 million for his campaign by the end of the second quarter.
That gave him a roughly 3-1 fundraising advantage over both U.S. Rep. Wamp, who reported raising $1.2 million, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who reported raising $1.3 million in the second quarter. The Knoxville mayor had a 9-to-1 advantage over Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, who reported raising $415,000.
Mr. Haslam, who joined his GOP competitors at a Davidson County Republican Party picnic Saturday, said he doesn't intend to let up on fundraising.
"All these guys, everybody's trying to raise money," said the mayor, whose family members have been prominent GOP fundraisers for years. "We just feel like we've put together a really good team to do it and worked real hard at it, and we're going to keep doing that."
Mr. Haslam said he remains focused as well on organizing statewide support and getting well versed on state issues. A money advantage helps but doesn't guarantee victory, he said.
"No, absolutely not," he said. "Race after race has shown that, right? I mean the person who raises the most doesn't (always win). But does it help you get your message out? You bet. It's a piece."
While Mr. Haslam enjoys a fundraising advantage, the hearts of Nashville area Republican activists -- at least on Saturday -- belonged with U.S. Rep. Wamp, a Chattanoogan, and Lt. Gov. Ramsey, who is the state Senate speaker.
In a straw poll of 175 activists attending a Davidson County Republican Party picnic, the two politicians tied 59-59 among attendees. Mr. Haslam came in third with 29 votes while Attorney General Gibbons came in fourth with 18 votes. Joe Kirkpatrick of Mount Juliet, who recently entered the contest, received 10 votes, according to Davidson County Republican Party Chairman Kathleen Starnes, who released the figures.
Ms. Starnes said it was "kind of sad" there was a tie and noted many people remain undecided nearly a year out from the August 2010 primary. She said Lt. Gov. Ramsey is more "Nashville oriented" since he is in Nashville a great amount of time during the annual legislative session. But she noted of U.S. Rep. Wamp, "I mean he's worked it. He's really working hard."
Nashville columnist and blogger Dru Fuller quoted U.S. Rep. Wamp saying the straw poll was a "big win for me because I'm not from here and I haven't served here."
Earlier, the congressman said his campaign will "fund the plan that I wrote, and that's a winning plan" in the GOP primary. "Make no mistake about it. I have the base, the coalition, the majority of the party. ... I show up in counties that I hadn't been to and 80 people show up."
Lt. Gov. Ramsey said he was pleased by his fundraising during a relatively short period of time. He said Mr. Haslam will have a fundraising advantage and, due to the mayor's personal wealth, can self-fund his bid if necessary.
"But if a race boiled down to money I wouldn't be in it because I know I'm going to be outspent period," Lt. Gov. Ramsey said. "The race is going to boil down to grass roots. It's going to boil down to message. It's going to boil down to people who are willing to work the hardest, and that's the reason why I think I'm the front-runner."
Attorney General Gibbons noted he does not have the statewide fundraising base of other candidates and said his plans are "on track. I congratulate my opponents for having more dollars at the present time. I think I have more votes at the present time, if for no other reason I have the largest base" of GOP primary voters in Shelby County.