Did the Gov’s Race Just Heat Up or Cool Down?

So as has been widely reported Harold Ford Jr. is not running for Gov.. What does this mean for TN democratic politics and what does it mean for the race as a whole? Let’s take a look.

3 people have really totally “declared” on the Democratic side; Kim McMillan of Clarksville, Ward Cammack of Nashville, and State Senator Roy Herron of Dresden. Other folks who have been making moves signaling a possible run are; State Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga, Mike McWherter of Jackson/Dresden, State Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis, and last but not least, Knoxville developer and former TNDP chair Doug Horne.

HFJ’s decision not to run comes as little surprise. He has been largely absent from the Tennessee political scene since his loss in the 2006 Senate race to Bob Corker. Also, his work at the DLC, while a generally popular organization in Tennessee, has taken him out of the national spotlight in many ways. Finally, the allegation that he received a bonus from Merrill Lynch may have pushed the political calculus over the edge. There is no doubt that he would have been an instant frontrunner had he entered the race. Now it is exactly that, a race.

The three declared candidates; McMillan, Cammack, and Herron, come from both the political and business worlds.

McMillan, the former Majority Leader of the State House, and Senior Advisor to Governor Phil Bredesen, got out of the gate early, meeting Democrats across the state, including yours truly. McMillan is well spoken, if somewhat vague about her agenda, and will likely do well in rural TN. The income tax debacle is still being hung around her neck, and until she shakes off that label, she may have a hard time making inroads among some of the more moderate and conservative folks in the state.

Ward Cammack was the second candidate to declare. A former investment banker, Cammack retired from the industry at the end of last year. In an interview with Kleinheider at Post Politics Cammack readily acknowledged that he had given to and voted for Republicans in the past. This may be difficult for some in and around the party to accept, but he reassures Democrats that, “Yes, I have given [money] to Republicans in the past and I have voted for Republicans in the past. I have never tried to hide that,” Cammack says. “But if you ask me if I believe in the Democratic Party, the answer is yes. Yes, I do.”

Roy Herron has been a fixture in the Tennessee Legislature for over two decades. The only sitting Senator that has currently announced for Governor, Herron is also the Chair of the Tennesee Senatorial Democratic Caucus. With a long legislative career come plenty of things for people to pick at. Most recently the risky bond deals that have crippled local municipalities he supported in 1999. Herron is not up for re-election to his Senate seat until 2012, so his entry doesn’t leave an open hole in the Senate, but the crippling unemployment in SD24, and his perceived inability/unwillingness to bring home some bacon to his needy district may hurt his local base of support.

Now for the undeclared folks.

When I met Senator Berke, I didn’t really know what to expect. Being from the other side of the state I had no real contact with him. He turned out to be a charming person, keenly interested in the future of both Tennessee and the Party outreach. Since then, Berke has been largely concerned with legislative affairs, but rumors of his intent to run persist. We probably won’t know until the session is over, but if he runs, he will bring an East TN flavor to the mix the race. His twitter feed is awesome, and funny.

I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Senator Jim Kyle, even though he represents a district here in Shelby Co., but his twitter feed is instructive. This is a guy interested in process and procedure, which is how government works. There is little doubt that Kyle would be an able administrator in state government. Should he choose to run, he has to work on his delivery of a message that resonates outside of West TN. It’s been quite some time since anyone’s been able to do that statewide, and with a surging population in the East, it’s even more of an uphill climb.

You may or may not know the name Doug Horne, but one thing is certain, he’s a Democrat. The former chair of the TNDP has given probably hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to Democratic candidates and institutions in the state and around the country. I didn’t live here during his tenure at TNDP, but just looking at his giving record makes him a contender. If he’s willing to put that much money into other people’s races, just imagine how much he will put into his own.

The McWherter name strikes fear in the hearts of politicians all over Tennessee. Not because of anything nefarious, but because of the political powerhouse that it has been for decades. In last year’s Senate race Mike McWherter’s late exit is credited, rightfully or not, with some of the weakness on the Democratic slate. In a post at Pith that fear may or may not be well placed. McWherter’s possible entry hasn’t deterred anyone from announcing so far. How much his possible entry will shut down fundraising is another question. Despite his name, McWherter has a tough row to hoe and the high expectations that may be out of his reach. Toastmasters anyone?

As the legislative session winds down and political events become more frequent across the state, we can expect that the field will become clearer. Candidates aren’t required to disclose their fundraising until mid-July, which still gives candidates currently serving in the legislature an opportunity to do some fundraising, though expectations will be far lower for them. The next disclosure after July is February 2010. That’s a lot of time for people to get in, or out, or break away from the pack. We likely won’t know for some time, but just like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play. With only three candidates officially in the race on the Democratic side, there’s lots of money out there on the table, and while fundraising isn’t everything, it is an indicator of early support.

The worst-case scenario for all of these candidates, and Democrats in Tennessee, is that NONE of them catch fire, much like the 2008 US Senate race, and we end up with a de facto concession candidate. Looking at the field now, it’s hard to know who will emerge as the fighters, and who will fade away. Both the McMillan and Cammack campaigns are in one stage or the other of building a campaign presence. McMillan has had a nicely designed web site for some time. Cammack is in the process of redesigning his, and has hired on campaign staff already. Herron, who just announced last week, has a reported $282k in the bank to kick start his campaign. It seems unlikely, given the people currently in the race, and the ones looking at the possibility, that we’ll end up with a placeholder.

That said, it’s vitally important that these candidates start getting more face time with voters, both Democrats and Independents. The Republican slate, while a little larger, is full of people with name recognition in the state. Sitting back and hoping they implode is probably not going to happen. In order to be successful, candidates on the Democratic side are going to have to distinguish themselves not only from each other, but make a strong argument for Democratic principles to voters. This may be a tough sell considering the legislative losses that the Democratic Party suffered in the state last November, but it’s vital. The Governor is the most visible Democratic Party member in the state. Gubernatorial candidates, by extension, are the future standard bearers of the party. This is not just about “looking Gubernatorial”, it’s about BEING a Governor in the eyes of voters before they even get to the ballot box.

We’ve got a good slate so far, and the possibility of a real shootout in 2010. This thing is going to heat up. Don’t expect much more than simmering for a while though. We’re still 19 months out and ANYTHING can happen.

0 Replies to “Did the Gov’s Race Just Heat Up or Cool Down?”

  1. Cammack is a joke. McMillan and Herron are average Blue Dog types (which isn’t good). Hopefully more will get into the race and provide us with some choices.
    Honestly, if those you mentioned are all we have going for us the TNDP is in a lot of trouble.

    Getting past Ford and other such chickenhawks from the Bush era is a big step in the right direction, but there’s still lots of work to do finding solid Progressive Democrats to take the reigns of the TNDP.

    *sigh* any chance Marivuana Leinoff is running again?
    Worthy candidates are getting fewer and further between every day.

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