Friday, December 19, 2008

Republicans Worry Frist Lacks 'Fire in the Belly'

Posted By on Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 9:15 AM

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For months, Bill First has been widely expected to run for governor in 2010. He raised tons of campaign cash for state legislative candidates and even dutifully served as the grand marshal of the Mule Day Parade in Columbia. What more evidence do you need of his interest?

But now it's looking like he may disappoint. The latest thinking among Republican insiders is that the former senator just can't muster the all-important "fire in the belly" and probably will delay his political comeback. He says he'll announce his decision early in the New Year.

It's well known that Frist's real goal is the presidency. The question then becomes how best to fulfill that ambition? Should Frist stay on the world stage, hoping to cast himself as a modern-day Albert Schweitzer fighting AIDS and malnutrition and disease around the globe (the Schweitzer Path as it's become known in Republican circles)? Or should Frist become governor and immediately find himself beset by the urgent need to either raise taxes or cut the bejesus out of the budget? What would you do?

"By all accounts, he's genuinely undecided," one GOP source tells Pith. "There are folks who are close to him who say there's no fire in the belly for it. What is it that he's going to see in state government that's going to make it sexy all of a sudden? The answer is not very much."

If not Frist, then who? Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, District Attorney Bill Gibbons of Memphis and Congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga are seen as the three most likely GOP contenders. Of the three, Haslam is the favorite, mainly because he's rich enough to pay for his own campaign.

Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn certainly doesn't lack for ambition, but she's still stinging from publicity over ethical lapses and may decide to sit out this one, some Republicans say.

As for Democrats, Congressman Lincoln Davis still might run, although that seems less likely now that he's secured an appointment to the House Appropriations Committee, from which he can sling pork-barrel projects into his district.

Otherwise, Democrats will be left with a field of lesser names. Kim McMillan, the former House majority leader, is one.

The news is that state Sens. Roy Herron and Andy Berke have both privately expressed interest in running if Davis doesn't. Doug Horne, the businessman and Democratic Party benefactor, is also thinking about it.

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