Four candidates vying for the Republican Party's nomination in the 2010 governor's race in Tennessee faced off last week in Memphis.

Most media accounts shared the insights from three of the four: Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, state Sen. Ron Ramsey of Blountville, and 3rd District Congressman Zach Wamp. But there was a fourth. The GOP contenders see him on the campaign trail as he attends Lincoln Day dinners in various counties. These dinners serve as mini-fundraisers for county political operations.

Joe Kirkpatrick of Gallatin is No. 4.

(By the way, there is yet another, Basil Marceaux, who is running this year for Hamilton County mayor - he lost - 3rd District representative and governor. The one consistency is, he is found in the Republican column.)

Mr. Kirkpatrick is a stay-at-home father with a wife he describes as "the speaker in my house." In contrast to his three main opponents, he boasts that he is the only one not on a government payroll. But it should be noted that Mr. Ramsey is employed in real estate and auction work. Finally, if age were an issue, which it is not in the GOP race, Mr. Kirkpatrick claims to have changed more diapers than anyone else in the Republican field. He is the father of a 16-year-old and younger triplets.

To illustrate how far political debates have advanced, one need only visualize the physical settings inside the debate setting.

The measure always will be the 1960 debate between Richard Nixon, the Republican, and John Kennedy, the Democrat, who were in a heated battle for president.

In the still early days of live television, the two candidates faced off for a national audience. Mr. Nixon, sweating profusely, was deemed the loser to the senator from Massachusetts, based as much on physical appearance as on what was said. In contrast, those who listened to the debate on the radio (sound with no pictures) believed that Mr. Nixon had won.

Move ahead 50 years to the studio at WKNO, the public TV station in Memphis. Within minutes of the opening segment of the gubernatorial debate, Mr. Kirkpatrick started sweating. A handful of tissues from the television staff did not stem the flow. Later he started fanning himself with the set of papers, apparently without the

knowledge of those in the television viewing audience but well within view of the panelists and others in the studio.

This is not to say that the failure to display Mr. Kirkpatrick's sweating affected the outcome of the debate. It did not.

It is to share that what is not seen or heard or stated can often be important in making decisions on who is best qualified to serve as the chief executive of the state.

Voters should pay close attention to promises made to one group, in one part of the state, or to special interest groups, because the impact is always much larger.

The common emphases among the GOP candidates for governor who debated in Memphis were leadership, vision, management and reform.

The answers for who is best qualified to manage the state's affairs for the next four years are not found in headline phrases such as "an isle of sanity in a nation gone crazy" or "liberalism is a mental disorder" that now is taking hold of Republicans as well.

The choices outlined in Memphis in the GOP debate were clear.

Represented were different experiences and experience levels. Those qualifications should be matched with the challenges and opportunities ahead for Tennessee.

Mr. Kirkpatrick may have done more to assist in the sorting out process than he realized when he stepped onto the stage as a fourth candidate in what is considered more of a three-person field.

To reach Tom Griscom, call 423-757-6472 or e-mail