NASHVILLE — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean said Thursday he's raised $1.2 million so far in his 2018 campaign.
Calling the figure a "good sign that the campaign is showing momentum," Dean, a former Nashville mayor, said it also demonstrates Tennesseans want progress — not partisan politics — in their next governor.
After expenditures, the 61-year-old attorney expects to report just short of $1 million in the bank on his Jan. 16-June 30 disclosure, due to the state on July 17.
Dean said he aims to raise around $10 million as he seeks to become Democrats' nominee in next year's primary, then take on the winner of the GOP primary in an effort to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
Three Republicans have already declared they're running.
Haslam's former state economic commissioner, Randy Boyd of Knoxville and owner of Radio Systems Corp., announced his candidacy, and in April, he reported raising $1.2 million at his first fundraiser.
Another candidate is Bill Lee of Franklin, chairman of family-owned Lee Co., the state's largest mechanical contractor in Middle Tennessee, providing heating, air conditioning and other building services to residential and commercial customers. Lee held his first fundraiser in June and said he raised $1.3 million.
State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, last month announced her candidacy. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., is taking a hard look at running, as is Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.
State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, is widely expected to run. Fitzhugh said Thursday he expects to make a final decision in coming weeks about entering the Democratic primary.
"A million dollars, that's pretty substantial," Fitzhugh said of Dean's haul in the first four months of his campaign. "But, you know, I'm used to working with a caucus that's only a quarter of the House chamber. So we're used to being a little bit behind and in the hole and fighting our way out.
"That type of thing wouldn't bother me if I were to be so inclined" to run, Fitzhugh added.
In a state where Democrats have won no statewide contested race since 2006, Dean earlier said he's "convinced the people of Tennessee are interested in a governor who's middle of the road, someone who's pragmatic."
Dean cited his experience running Tennessee's second-largest city from 2007-2015, calling it "one of the things that distinguishes me from other candidates."
Unlike other announced or expected candidates, Dean said, he "actually ran a government and I've had to get things done."
Dean said his donors and contributions show he's getting strong grassroots support.
Since starting his campaign in mid-March, the candidate said he's gotten more than 2,400 online contributions and more than 3,000 in all. Fifty-seven percent of the online contributions are $25 or less.
The GOP primary, meanwhile, is shaping up in some respects as a millionaires' affair.
Boyd, whose companies produce pet products, raised political eyebrows earlier this year when he cut a $5 million check to the Knoxville Zoo. Lee is wealthy. So is Black, who along with husband David founded Aegis Sciences Corp., which does drug testing for businesses and athletes.
The Blacks' 2014 net worth was estimated by Roll Call at a minimum of $45.95 million, based on her disclosures.
Democrat Dean, meanwhile, came under criticism by an opponent in his first 2007 mayoral campaign as a result of personal spending by he and his wife, Anne Davis Dean, an heiress to millions made by a late uncle who had been in the coal mining industry.
The ability to self-fund campaigns to some degree has been a difference maker for any number of statewide Tennessee officeholders in recent years.
Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor and, according to Forbes Magazine, a billionaire whose family owns the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain, cut checks totalling $3.5 million for his 2010 governor's race, in addition to raising some $13.8 million.
He dispatched his GOP rivals in the Republican primary as well as Democrat Mike McWherter, the son of former Democratic Gov. Ned McWherter and a millionaire himself.
And in his first U.S. Senate race in 2006, Republican and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker spent some $4.1 million of his own money in a hotly contested GOP primary and a fierce general election battle that drew national attention.
In 2002, Democrat and former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen injected some $2.9 million in personal funds into his general election contest.