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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to supporters in Nashville after being re-elected Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014.

NASHVILLE - In September, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was stumping in Hudson, Wis., where the pugnacious Republican Governors Association chairman happily tore into Democrat Mary Burke, who was challenging GOP Gov. Scott Walker.

Christie, according to news accounts, noted Walker was "too much of a gentleman" to hit Burke. "But," Christie added, "I will." And he did, accusing Burke of plagiarism in a contest she eventually lost.

The attack-dog role suited Christie well. Now the RGA, which raises money and plots strategies to elect and defend Republican governors, has a new chairman -- Bill Haslam of Tennessee.

And Haslam is known to friends and critics as the ever-optimistic Mr. Nice Guy. A story last week in Politico even dubbed him the "Anti-Christie." So how does an amiable guy who often shuns direct confrontation work out as Mr. Attack Dog?

Haslam chuckled this week when reporters asked that question.

"I think anybody knows that's probably not my style," Haslam said. "But I do think it matters who we elect across the country."

He quickly turned the topic to GOP gains in 2014 and how Republicans showed they are not solely a regional, Southern-based party with victories in Democratic states such as Massachusetts and Maryland.

Being RGA chairman for 2015 gives Haslam a national stage with responsibility for raising millions of dollars for GOP efforts. Several Republicans eyeing potential presidential bids in 2016 didn't seek the RGA chairmanship.

The schedule will be relatively light. Only three states -- Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana -- have gubernatorial elections next year.

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney predicted Haslam will do a fine job as chairman.

"I think that Gov. Haslam certainly has the experience. He's a great campaigner and fundraiser. He knows how to win," Devaney said.

As for Haslam's nice-guy image, Devaney said, "everybody brings different styles to any position."

"I don't think you necessarily have to have the style Chris Christie has," he added.

"He's very positive. He can be up there talking about the positive message and also about where we contrast with Barack Obama ... and how the Republican-led states are really doing a great job despite the kind of work Obama is doing."

Devaney said Haslam spoke to Republican National Committee members earlier this year and was "very well received," even being invited to several other states to speak.

"I just think his kind of message, a very positive message talking about all the great things Republicans can do under conservative leadership ... is going to resonate very well," Devaney said.

Mike Turner, the former state House Democratic Caucus chairman who does have a reputation as an attack dog, said he generally got along with Haslam with some major exceptions, such as expanding the state's Medicaid program.

"He can be tough when he needs to be tough. He's shown that to me," Turner said. "There were times when things were going on and I made some statements or things were sent to him and he stood his ground."

But he said he hopes Haslam will prove a "good influence" on Republicans at the national level.

"They've gone too far to the right. ... I think he can be a moderating force on that group," Turner said.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.

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