NASHVILLE - Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Gibbons on Thursday criticized rival Bill Haslam, saying he is "out of touch."
Mr. Gibbons, the Shelby County district attorney general, said comments attributed to Mr. Haslam about the public's uncaring attitude toward education show the Knoxville mayor is elitist and "out of touch."
"Bill Haslam ought to get out of the country club set a little more often and talk to regular Tennesseans," Mr. Gibbons said in a statement.
Mr. Haslam's spokesman, Jeremy Harrell, could not be reached for comment.
The criticism stems from remarks The Daily Times in Maryville quoted Mr. Haslam making during a campaign stop Wednesday. Mr. Haslam told the local Chamber of Commerce that Tennessee "wouldn't be 42nd if people cared," according to Mr. Gibbons.
The blog Blue Streak quoted Mr. Haslam saying, "We rank 42 out of 50 states. We need a different culture and a different expectation. We haven't set the bar high enough."
Mr. Gibbons said his opponent is "flat wrong."
"The problem isn't Tennesseans - they care," Mr. GIbbons said. "It's a state government in Nashville that somehow seems OK with the status quo."
The Daily Times also reported the mayor told business leaders the next governor must support the Tennessee Education Department's efforts to make state tests match tougher national requirements.
"There will be push back," Mr. Haslam said.
Mr. Haslam; Mr. Gibbons; U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.; and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, are vying for the 2010 GOP nomination.
All are expected to be in Chattanooga today for the Hamilton County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner.