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Whisper campaign begins in GOP Senate primary
May 18, 2005 12:00 am
May 13, 2005
POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: The whisper campaign is officially on in the Republican primary for Tennessee's U.S. Senate seat.
Most of the not so quiet hot air is being spent to suggest one of the field's four horses needs to jump into the governor's race and clear the path for others to replace outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker and State Rep. Beth Harwell are bearing the brunt of the Republican grass roots rumor mill, though the Hilleary and Bryant camps are doing their fair share of sniping at each other as well.
Of course, the bulk of the gubernatorial talk is focused on the fund-raising frontrunner in the race, Corker, who is sponging up the state's GOP financial resources with the support of the state party's traditional "Howard Baker Republican" wing.
Much of the frustration focused at Corker comes from GOP grass roots activists who see a repeat in the offing of the 2002 trouncing of Bryant at the hands of now Sen. Lamar Alexander – who enjoyed the support of the same old-money, traditional wing of the GOP in Tennessee.
The Bryant/Hilleary spin on Corker – which his camp vehemently denies – is that he is really an executive personality who has always wanted to be governor, not a legislator.
Corker insiders answer this by promising the next quarterly fund-raising report for Corker's Senate campaign fund will be stellar, further outdistancing Bryant and Hilleary as well as an obvious sign he is in the Senate race for keeps.
Much of the off the record, behind the scenes talk and anonymous blog sniping comes from further frustration among Tennessee Republicans the party may fail to field a truly credible candidate to face Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2006.
Tennessee Republican leaders keep suggesting Bredesen may be vulnerable after a bloody fight within the left wing of his own party over severe cut backs in the state's ailing TennCare insurance program for the poor and uninsurable.
Yet, there is no actual polling data made public by either party suggesting Bredesen is actually vulnerable. To date, the only Republican seriously considering the race is big time fund-raiser but unknown political quantity Scooter Clippard, a banker, philanthropist and Bush Ranger.
The current battle in the Tennessee Republican Party is, in fact, the traditional battle in the GOP – the fiscal conservative and business wings of the party versus the socially conservative wing.
Hilleary lost his gubernatorial bid to Bredesen, a Democrat businessman, almost solely on the issue of who could manage the state better in the wake of the financial debacle left by GOP Gov. Don Sundquist. Bryant lost his U.S. Senate primary bid to Alexander, whose political lineage is clearly tied to the old wing of the party.
Corker is widely referred to by any Democratic operative who will tell the truth as the Democrats "worst nightmare" in Tennessee – a cross over candidate moderate enough to appeal to Democrats with a firm roots in the state's old money wing of the GOP.
The short translation is Corker is another Alexander in the making – a man who can stay in the Senate as long as his is physically able.
With Corker's growing war chest, the next set of questions and quiet whispers may focus on just how badly grass roots conservatives and Tennessee Republicans of all stripes want a blood bath primary before defending Frist's Senate seat.