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Clippard step closer to facing Bredesen in '06
Apr 20, 2005 12:00 am
POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Tennessee Republicans got a step closer to finding a candidate to oppose Gov. Phil Bredesen next year Monday when longtime GOP activist Scooter Clippard decided to put his banking career on hold.
Clippard and his employer, Lexington-based FirstBank, jointly announced Clippard would begin a leave of absence from the bank effective May 1 to "pursue personal interests."
Clippard clarified the bank's statement, making it plain he plans to explore a run against Bredesen.
"I guess the best way to say it is that I've been in the thinking stage," Clippard said of his personal journey on whether or not to vie for the governor's mansion. "I believe I am moving to the considering stage."
Clippard is certainly not a household name in Tennessee and largely unknown outside of banking and GOP insider circles.
He is, however, an accomplished philanthropist and one of the state's foremost rainmakers, second only in his fund-raising prowess to perhaps Ted Welch. A Bush Ranger fund-raiser, Clippard already has one confirmed meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist about the potential run against Bredesen.
Republican operatives and conservative talking heads in the state have been beating the drum over the governor being vulnerable, pointing to the weakening in his own Democratic Party base over the proposed cuts in TennCare.
GOP leaders in the state are also quietly talking up the idea Bredesen might not even run again – wishful thinking considering how much money the governor has raised in the last year for re-election.
There has even been talk among Democrats in Nashville of a Bredesen internal poll that showed growing unfavorable figures for the governor, a poll his staff denies even exists.
The real question for Republicans is just how vulnerable is Bredesen?
The governor appeared to have no coattails whatsoever in 2004 when despite personal campaigning on his part and the state's Democratic Congressional delegation, Democrats lost control of the state Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.
However, Bredesen appears to have no real weaknesses on issues as his one soft spot has been with the liberal wing of his own party – TennCare. How will a Republican Party that has been screaming to end TennCare for years fault a governor with any impact who is trying to all but kill the program?
Clippard appears acutely aware of the complexity of the GOP's challenge, saying essentially part of his own decision or any Republicans will be to find out if they can even make it a race with Bredesen.
"I think I need to find out if this state really wants a choice," Clippard said. "I think whoever is thinking about running needs to ask if the support for the present governor strong or soft? Those things need to be addressed."