With Senate majority leader Bill Frist insisting he will exit stage right in 2006, fulfilling his pledge to serve only two terms, there’s considerable speculation about the Republicans who will vie to replace him.
That’s in part because the Republicans have a very strong bench. A number of them have the money, the name recognition and the smarts to make a race.
One of the most often mentioned names is that of Ed Bryant, who lost to Lamar Alexander in the 2002 Senate primary. Bryant, who formerly represented the state’s 7th Congressional District, has impressed many of the state’s top Republican brass with his direct style, no-nonsense attitude and maturity. Many were also impressed by the fact that he gave the incredibly popular Alexander such a scare as well. (Bryant got 43 percent to Alexander’s 54 percent.)
Another top name is that of Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, who ran for the Senate primary in 1994, only to lose to Frist. Corker later served as finance commissioner at the front end of Sundquist’s term, before things got really ugly. Corker has both the money to fund his own race and plenty of energy. Like Bryant, he is deeply wired in state GOP circles.
A Corker-Bryant matchup would be one for the ages, but it would get insanely competitive should Marsha Blackburn throw her hat into the ring. The former state senator from Williamson County beat back numerous challengers to get elected to Congress last year. Nobody doubts she’s ambitious, and everyone respects her ability to pull votes. Blackburn’s congressional district spans several media markets (it stretches from Davidson to Shelby counties) so she’s getting more name recognition by the day.
Finally, there’s Van Hilleary. Remember him?
Lt. Gov. John Wilder isn’t getting any less nuts, judging from a fund-raising letter he sent this month to prospective donors. The notoriously simplistic and out-there Senate speaker doesn’t disappoint those who expect his “See Dick Run” communication style. Why paraphrase. Here it is:
“The time has come again. I need help. I want to continue to serve. I want to continue to make a difference. I want to get done what is right for the state of Tennessee. The legislature has made a difference. I am proud. I am not tired.
“Healthcare costs have squeezed us bad. The lack of a deductible tax (1986 sales tax) hit us hard. I am not through. We have many issues still to work on. I know you know what I know. I need all the help you and your friends can give. I know you understand.”
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