Haslam campaign hits road

NASHVILLE - Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Haslam kicked off his general election campaign Monday, saying he intends to build upon an "energized Republican base."

He also said he will attract independents and Democrats to beat Democrat Mike McWherter in the fall contest.

Haslam, who is Knoxville's mayor, last week won 47 percent of the Republican primary vote to beat GOP rivals Zach Wamp and Ron Ramsey.

Haslam made a cross-state trek Monday, hitting several cities, including Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga. During the Chattanooga stop, he thanked supporters at his headquarters in the heart of Wamp country. Local GOP officials showed up or sent word of their support.

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said he had a prior commitment and could not attend, but in a phone interview said, "I'm going to do what I can to help in getting him elected."

Haslam supporters cheered his arrival in Chattanooga and he told them the race was only half over.

"I want to welcome some of those who weren't with us before," he said, referring to people who might have supported his Republican rivals. "Winning the primary is nice, but it doesn't count for anything."

He said Wamp and Ramsey are "fully committed" to helping him become governor. Haslam said he's fully committed to himself, too, saying he hasn't ruled out putting more of his own money into the campaign.

Spokesman David Smith said Haslam put $1.4 million into his primary run, and Haslam said he's "never ruled out" giving himself more.

His Democratic opponent, McWherter, also gave himself a $1 million loan.

Haslam used his campaign stops to talk about the themes he'll be highlighting during the general election campaign.

He told reporters during a stop at the Elliston Place Soda Shop in Nashville that his focus on attracting new jobs, improving education and coping with state budget problems will remain the same in the general election contest as it was in the primary.

"I think most folks really care about the same thing," Haslam said. "They want a governor who understands how to create jobs. They understand where we are on education, need to push that forward."

McWherter said he hopes to pick up disaffected conservatives who voted against Haslam in the GOP primary. But Haslam countered, "I think we'll have a strong network of Democrats who'll support us. I'm pretty confident of that."

Last week, McWherter accused Haslam of playing up the "gloom and doom" aspects of state budget problems, contending that current Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, has matched one-time funds with one-time spending.

"That's actually not right," Haslam said, citing $165 million in federal stimulus funds for recurring higher education spending he said will go away next year, along with about $160 million in additional funds ending for TennCare.

He said the "stimulus plan pushed the cliff back two years but it didn't change the fact that the cliff's coming."