Pitch Men 

Big swinging, uh, Democrats recruit a gubernatorial candidate

Big swinging, uh, Democrats recruit a gubernatorial candidate

As much as politics seemingly has changed over the years—promotions based on merit rather than political support, the increasing numbers of women elected to the state Legislature, and greater scrutiny of political contributions than ever before—some things have stayed the same.

Middle-aged white guys still pretty much run things. Witness the scene last Friday night at Nashville's City Club, a sort of Morton's-lite where the elite gather to dine on not-so-elite fare.

The point of the gathering was to talk to Congressman John Tanner, a likable Union City Democrat with a sort of watered down Ned McWherter verve, about running for the open governor's seat next year. The bottom line to Tanner from the group of influential businessmen and elected leaders was that the most often mentioned consensus Democratic candidate—one Congressman Bob Clement—just isn't exciting anyone. They want Tanner—one of the few Democrats who has been able to maintain conservative populist appeal and close ties to the business community—to consider stepping up to save the party from a lackluster campaign and yet another possible statewide defeat.

"We're just looking for a candidate," one of the dozen or so Tanner tempters conceded to the Scene. "I like Bob [Clement], but he can't win a governor's race."

The meeting was attended briefly by Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, himself once considered an aspiring governor. Others who lingered for a more lengthy briefing with Tanner were former U.S. Sen. Harlan Mathews (the man credited with persuading Phil Bredesen to run in 1994 after Bredesen had firmly taken himself out of the gubernatorial race), local businessman Clayton McWhorter, state Rep. Matt Kisber, local political strategist Dave Cooley, contractor Ray Bell, Tanner aide Joe Hill, Tinker Kelly of Jimmy Kelly's fame, lobbyist Dale Allen, local fund-raiser Robert Davidson, and retired lobbyist Tom Benson.

According to sources who attended the meeting and others privy to the gathering's outcome, Tanner came away unconvinced to run, but partially swayed. Asked whether Tanner would attempt a candidacy if the ultimate Goliath, Republican U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, were to run on the GOP ticket, one attendee says, "He sure didn't seem totally convinced to run, but if he did, I think he would run regardless of who the Republican candidate is."

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