Tennessee Democrats don't even have to meet U.S. Senate candidate Terry Adams to love two things about him.
First, Adams hasn't sounded the alarm about government conspiracies and does not appear to believe that the Transportation Security Administration "mandates transexuals and homosexuals grabbing children in their stranger danger zones."
Second, his name starts with "A."
That Democrats would even note such things about a candidate says much about the post-traumatic stress that lingers from 2012, when the eccentric Mark Clayton — who, yes, did voice the aforementioned concern about stranger danger — rode the alphabetically ordered ballot to victory in a Democratic primary made up of unknowns and gadflys. He was disavowed by the state party and eventually lost to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, but not before securing 30 percent of the statewide vote and ensuring that the Tennessee Democratic Party's shame was on national display.
If Terry Adams is on the general election ballot this fall, opposite incumbent Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, Democrats believe they can at least avoid that last bit. (They dare to dream even bigger about what's possible if Adams faces state Rep. Joe Carr, by virtue of an upset in the GOP primary.) The Knoxville attorney has the kind of bio that sells — he's an entrepreneur and a Navy veteran — and he has made a good impression when granted face time with Democratic players. Upon his entrance to the race, he received some support from former state party chairmen Chip Forrester and Bob Tuke (who is serving as his campaign treasurer), as well as Democratic moneymen like Charles Robert Bone.
But Democrats continue to search in vain for someone whose name and pocketbook carry more weight. Two Democratic operatives in particular tell the Scene they've engaged in high-level discussions to that end, making the pitch to well-connected and/or deep-pocketed Democrats who might be able to upend the race, even at this late date.
Individuals targeted for potential candidacy fall into one of three categories, says a source involved in the effort. The first is made up of elected officials or other notables (read: music or movie stars) — people who have run and won, or have high name recognition for another reason (read: music or movie stars). The second includes the increasingly sought-after "self-funders." That is, the kind of politically involved person who could write one check with the words "Senate Race" on the memo line and be done with it, or at least could jump-start a campaign by spotting themselves $1 million. (The benefits of this ability speak for themselves in an era when insiders say a U.S. Senate run will set you back more than $15 million.)
If all else fails, there's Box No. 3, consisting of young up-and-comers who can afford to lose. This is where you find Terry Adams, whose future political ambitions would be well served by a respectable campaign run on a statewide stage.
Adams is seen as a promising candidate, but Democratic sources say his relative lack of statewide political relationships has meant that it's taken longer to get into certain rooms. That and the possibility of a "dream candidate" stepping forward have made it somewhat more difficult for him to leave those rooms with big checks. And so, with an April 3 filing deadline looming, the effort continues.
Even if taking back a Senate seat in 2014 is the longest of longshots, running a legitimate contender would yield more reliable data for future races. It has been a decade since a Senate race provided Democrats with truly reliable voter data from counties across the state. As one operative lamented, the only thing to be gleaned from the 2012 Senate race is that "even if you're affiliated with a hate group and have to be disavowed, you can win Shelby County."
But so far, no one's swinging at the pitch. It's no surprise, perhaps, that accomplished political players with statewide potential don't like to think of themselves as canaries in a coal mine. Although there are a number of able candidates, one source says, few believe "the environment is right" for them to make a run.
The reasons given for declining these overtures go beyond that, though. One Democratic operative identified Bill Freeman, an individual with the ability to self-fund an entire campaign, as attracting attention about a run for the Senate. But if Freeman seeks political office, the operative said, it will be the one currently occupied by Mayor Karl Dean. (The source affirmed Freeman's own previous statements, however, saying that he has not yet decided whether to run in the 2015 mayoral race.)
In another case, Democratic higher-ups found they weren't the first to broach the subject with a possible contender. One source reports that a potential candidate — one of the "deep pockets" from Category 2 — said he had a "prenuptial agreement that dictated he wouldn't run for office."
With no candidate for governor, and a relative unknown challenging an entrenched incumbent for a Senate seat, the new year is looking a lot like the old one for Tennessee Democrats. But for what it's worth, here's an idea: Go back to that last man, and ask if his wife would be interested in running for U.S. Senate.
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