One of the favorite pastimes for the crew here at RTP is to pull out the old crystal ball, which is actually a half full bottle of Jack and peer into the future. (It is amazing how clear the future can appear the lower the brown liquid in the bottle gets!). So about three drinks apiece into our prognostications, we decided to discuss who might emerge as the next Governor and perhaps next Senator(s) for Tennessee.
While the list of potentials and wannabees is not as long as those seeking the GOP nomination for President (but it’s close) there are a lot of folks who seem to be interested in the few statewide spots available in Tennessee. All of this gross speculation is based, of course, on the expectation there will be no retirements or vacancies at the top. If something like that happens, all bets are off (and we will need a lot more whiskey to work our way through that minefield).
Some are more active than others in doing things that indicate a sincere interest and a willingness to lay the groundwork for a possible run. Others are seemingly just waiting for lightening to strike. That seldom happens.
Governor Haslam is a lame duck who looks increasingly lame, especially with a legislature that is growing more and more openly hostile to his left leaning agenda of Common Core, Obamacare, raising taxes, etc. So the 2018 Governor’s race, especially the Republican Primary, is already getting started. Senator Corker has a similar out of step voting record. Bob should remember the voters of Tennessee gave Senator Lamar Alexander a scare and voted him down in two dozen counties (including his home county of Blount) to heavily underfunded Joe Carr. So expect a tough primary for Corker in 2018, and perhaps a lot of out of state “Beat Corker” funding, especially after his pushing for a federal gas tax and having his butt handed to him by Obama in the disastrous Iran deal.
Of course, Bob might have been hoping to take another job and avoid a messy re-election, but his prospects of becoming Secretary of State under President Jeb! seem to be waning.
State Sen. Mark Green is open about his ambitions to be Governor in 2018, as if they were ever a secret. He is already paying consultants, doing speaking engagements far outside his Senate district, etc. Has resources to self-fund a start up effort. He has limited name recognition outside of his district, but the same is true of anybody else who might run. He is in. Who else will join him?
Speaker Beth Harwell is being coy about her plans but has about $1.3 million in her PAC and reelection accounts. They can be used in a Governor’s race, but NOT in a Senate campaign. However, she can’t raise money during the legislative session and any attempt to change that law won’t make it through the Senate. Just ask Ron Ramsey why. Ron won’t be hiding in the bathroom like Beth did. Beth needs to make some strong right turns to distance herself from the Haslam policies she has supported to have a chance to win conservative votes and she had better do it soon. There is noticeable grumbling among her caucus members that it appears she is using her position to raise money meant for helping the caucus, but has hoarded most of it for herself and her future ambitions. Not smart to tick off so many elected officials from every part of the state,
Former ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty. He has self-funding capabilities, great fundraising connections and the gravitas to be an excellent Governor or Senator. Doesn’t seem to be a natural campaigner, but neither was Haslam. Perception that he is a RINO from his associations with Romney, Haslam, the Bush family, etc. would be a hurdle in a Republican primary, unless there are several conservative candidates dividing up the base.
Current ECD Commissioner Randy Boyd. Word is he is the Haslam family pick to follow Bill. Has significant personal resources from selling pet doors and invisible fences. Those who have seen him on the stump say he probably has even worse campaign skills than Haslam. No name recognition and will not appeal to the conservative base at all, particularly since he has had to carry water for Haslam on Common Core, expansion of Obamacare and now the Governor’s gas tax increase plan. Other than that he looks like a shoo-in.
AFP State Director Andy Ogles. Certainly on the right side of the issues from a conservative base standpoint, and though he doesn’t look to be a self funder he has the potential resources of the Koch Brothers at his disposal and is developing a grassroots activist network across the state that could easily be used personally at some point. Probably a more likely Senate candidate than Governor.
Congresswoman Diane Black. Her consultants would certainly like her to run statewide for Governor or Senate, and would be more than happy to spend hubby David Black’s virtually unlimited money in multiple media markets. Not a particularly strong campaigner, but has a bigger base to start from than those coming from State Senate districts. And did we mention she has plenty of money? Would likely be a candidate only in an open seat situation.
Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. Plenty of money in her campaign fund and gets regular media attention. Strong campaigner. Might take a shot at Governor, but unlikely to challenge Corker. She has long been rumored to want to be the first woman governor, but that rumor has hung around for years without much activity in that direction. Not really a risk taker, so the bet is that she stays where she is.
Congressman Stephen Fincher. Has significant resources at his disposal and is an excellent campaigner. More likely a Senate candidate than Governor, and has yet to step outside his district in any regular appearances that might indicate preparation for a statewide run. Until he does, he is in the “probably not” category. Perhaps the only member of Congress who might take on Corker rather than wait for an open seat.
Senator Mark Norris is often mentioned but lacks the base of name recognition or self-funding capabilities to be a serious contender at this point. Has long been considered “a minor threat for every major position.”
Former State Rep. Joe Carr gets mentioned more for the Senate race against Corker than Governor, but he could go either way. This is someone to watch closely. Carr received over a quarter million votes in his primary run against Lamar. From where we sit, no one else considering a run has done what Joe Carr did in 2014. He was grossly outspent, but held a living political legend to under 50% of the primary vote. If Carr gets serious about running, he will be a serious contender.
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