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AP File Photo/Beth A. Keiser / Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander poses in 1996 with the shirt he wore during his walk across the state during his 1978 gubernatorial campaign.

An email brings us news that 2022 Tennessee Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Jason Martin has plans to visit each of the state's 95 counties to win his party's nomination.

We would not make light of his vow, but these days it would almost be an upset if he didn't say he was going to make the grand tour.

"Can you pitch in to fuel our 95-county listening tour that's underway?" Martin writes to potential donors.

He's in good company.

In 2018, then-Republican candidate, now Gov. Bill Lee, conducted a 95-county tour across the state in his recreational vehicle when he first launched his campaign. He followed that with a 95-county tractor tour to emphasize his commitment to rural areas and farming communities. He wound up his primary campaign with a town hall tour that hit 50 locations.

One of his primary opponents, Randy Boyd, now the president of the University of Tennessee, declared he'd run across the state. He didn't say he'd hit all 95 counties, but he wasn't shy about telling anyone who would listen that as the state's commissioner of economic and community development under Gov. Bill Haslam he visited all 95 counties.

Before 2018, 2010 Democratic primary candidate Mike McWherter, who eventually lost to Haslam, also committed to take the tour.

"I wanted to be able to say that I've visited in all 95 counties before I began putting money into my own campaign," he said at the time. "But now that I've been out and visited all 95 counties, I want everyone to know we're willing to invest in this campaign to make it go forward. The bottom line is, we're going to do whatever it takes to win this race."

McWherter's father, two-term Gov. Ned McWherter, visited the state's 95 counties in his 1986 campaign.

The father of the modern, folksy, side-to-side state tour, though, is former Republican Gov. and former U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. After losing the 1974 gubernatorial race, as he pondered a second race in 1978, his wife, Honey, weighed in.

"If you run the way you did before," she said, according to his account in "Six Months Off," "you'll lose again. You flew around in little airplanes, seeing the same people. You weren't all that easy to approach. You weren't yourself. And you were never able to say really why you wanted to be elected."

She added, "I hope you don't run again unless you can tell yourself and then me and everybody why you want to be governor, what you hope to accomplish. And you need to find some way to be yourself and be comfortable. People will know in a minute if you're not."

What emerged as the centerpiece of Alexander's campaign was the still-youthful candidate in his red plaid shirt walking across the state in what his campaign said eventually was a 1,022-mile trek.

He wrote that his father didn't think much of the idea, and neither did his mentor, then-U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, and other Republicans. They initially thought it was gimmicky.

"It was the real thing," Alexander told the Tennessee Journal before his retirement from the Senate last year. "Instead of going to the Rotary Club, I was out going to places. It gave me a sense of the state and the people of the state that I didn't have, even though I prided myself on being a seventh-generation Tennessean. It sort of woke me up to a lot of things. And it sticks with me today."

Today, television and social media seem to have become the primary sources for candidates to get their messages across. But during the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Nashville radio talk show host and then-Tennessee Star political editor Steve Gill said there is still room for more personal interactions.

"[T]here is still a need for 'high touch' campaigning, whether it is done with tours, town halls, rallies, door-to-door blitzes, or any other version of the traditional 'ground game,'" he said. "As voters tune out in the wake of the overwhelming onslaught of media that has already begun, actual person-to-person voter contact could make a difference."

So, as Martin travels from Johnson County in the far northeast corner of the state to Shelby County in the far southwest corner, as he goes from Lake County in the northwest corner to Polk County in the southeast corner, he says he wants to learn "what you care about and want to see from your next governor."

He'll find some grumbling out there and some unhappiness with Gov. Lee, but if he really listens he'll find most people are happy with the GOP governor and legislature. Most don't believe, as the candidate writes in his email money pitches, "our leaders have repeatedly failed us and completely forgotten who they were elected to serve."

Time will tell, then, if Martin is, as Alexander said, getting "a sense of the state," or just seeking campaign funds by visiting all 95 of the state's counties.

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