Just who will vie for the U.S. Senate next year is Topic A among Tennessee politicos, but there's also a Topic B making the rounds: will Tennessee Republicans find a respectable candidate to run against Gov. Phil Bredesen next year? Believe it or not, there are some options. Here are just a fewfrom best shots to long shots:
Rep. Beth Halteman Harwell
Former chair of the Tennessee Republican Party and veteran legislator from Nashville, the very personable Beth Harwell has thus far expressed an interest only in the U.S. Senate. But the GOP field in that race is getting crowded, and if Harwell thinks she'll get squeezed out, she could make a run against Bredesen instead.
Upside: Very popular among the Belle Meade and Green Hills crowds, where GOP fund-raising is big.
Downside: So is Phil Bredesen.
Congressman Zach Wamp
With Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant now back in the private sector, the Tennessee Republican Congressional Class of 1994 has just one member left: Zach Wamp. One grassroots Republican group is trying to recruit Wamp to run against Bredesen and, while he hasn't said no, it seems risky to relinquish a safe congressional seat for the fate that befell his colleagues in 2002.
Upside: Nice enough guy with years of experience in Congress.
Downside: So was Don Sundquist.
B.C. "Scooter" Clippard
A banker, businessman and your basic everyday suburban white guy, Nashvillian Scooter Clippard is one of those people who couldn't be anything other than a Republican. Clippard is the only one on this list who has publicly expressed an interest in running for governor, even though he's never held an elected political office. Maybe he figures that he's been connected so closely to politicians through the years that he might as well have served himself.
Upside: Proven fundraiser who raised big bucks for Bush-Cheney '04.
Downside: He's a grown man who answers to "Scooter."
Sen. Ron Ramsey
The Republican majority leader of the state Senate couldn't get elected lieutenant governor, so why should he think he could be governor? Well, stranger things have happened, and Ramsey has a way with regular peoplea throwback to the old days where retail politics took precedence over much else. Would provide a nice contrast to the more technocratic Bredesen.
Upside: Could do well among voters in and around his upper East Tennessee base.
Downside: Any Republican would do well up there anyway.
Rev. Steve Flatt
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Bob Davis says that he was just thinking out loud when he publicly suggested that David Lipscomb University President Steve Flatt might make a good candidate, but Flatt's not a terrible choice if the party decides to throw in the towel and just hammer home the social conservative message.
Upside: He could attract Tennessee's huge Church of Christ vote.
Downside: Those Church of Christ folks really turned out against the lottery, didn't they?
Rep. Bill Dunn
You may have never heard of Bill Dunn, but the state representative from Knoxville is one of the most principled and incorruptible people on Capitol Hill. A devout Catholic, Dunn's social conservatism wears better on people who sense that it comes from deeply held beliefs rather the opportunity to score cheap political points. He's also got guts: Dunn was voting against Jimmy Naifeh for speaker of the House back when all of the other House Republicans were kissing the speaker's hindquarters.
Upside: Nomination would be a nice gesture for his years of soldiering in the trenches.
Downside: Probably not ready for prime time.
There were rumors four years ago that Gill, morning talk show host on WWTN-FM 99.7, might throw his hat into the ring for the 2002 gubernatorial election. He didn't, but back then WTN was the hottest station in the market. That's no longer the case. Gill's contract with the station expires next year; maybe he could take his show on the campaign trail. At least the debates would be entertaining.
Upside: Has experience as a candidate in tough races.
Downside: He's 0-2 in those tough races.
Outspoken former TennCare director Brian Lapps has fallen off the radar screen, but he's still out there. He also has a lot to say about the way TennCare is handled. Truth be told, Lapps is as much an expert on health care as Bredesen is; Bredesen just made a lot more money at the gig. Another one where the debates would be a sight to see.
Upside: He has a way with words to make a point.
Downside: Having a way with words often pisses people off.
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