by Gregory Hilton
Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam won a landslide victory in last nights GOP gubernatorial primary. He now faces Mike McWherter (D), 55, a beer distributor and son of a former governor. Haslam is a heavy favorite to take over the Governor’s Mansion in November. Two term Governor Phil Bredesen (D), a moderate, is retiring because of term limits.
Haslam, 51, describes himself as a conservative but was considered more moderate than his primary opponents. He was CEO of his family business, which is a chain of convenience stores and truck stops. Haslam expanded the company from 800 to over 14,000 employees. His family also has considerable energy investments and his primary opponents referred to him as an “oil billionaire.”
Tennessee has a tradition of electing moderate Republicans such as Senators Howard Baker, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. All of them benefited by the fact that the state does not have a primary run-off. Haslam spent a great deal of his own money on TV ads and defeated Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey by a 47-29-22 percent margin.
Haslam is finishing his second term as Mayor and was re-elected in 2007 with 87 percent of the vote. His TV ads emphasized that under his leadership Knoxville became one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion. He reduced the city’s debt, tripled the rainy day fund, reduced the number of city employees to the lowest amount in 15 years, and brought property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years.
Haslam was endorsed by former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-TN) and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA). He was also backed by the state’s three largest newspapers:
The Memphis Commercial Appeal:
“[Haslam] has a sense of perspective and a level of maturity that lift him above his competitors in the GOP race. He has the disposition to work well with members of the Tennessee congressional delegation, members of the General Assembly, local officials, business leaders and the public…GOP voters looking for a candidate who will remain true to core party principles and best represent what is admirable about the people of this state should give strong consideration to Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.”
The Tennessean (Nashville):
“In looking at the political history and campaign comments of Haslam and his opponents, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga, it’s clear they share similar views on social issues — abortion, guns, the death penalty. Therefore, the choice comes down to how well each of the candidates would manage the state’s affairs, set policies that will best address the challenges Tennessee faces, and represent the needs of all Tennesseans regardless of where they live, their economic standing and their personal beliefs. It is on those criteria that Bill Haslam emerges, head and shoulders, as the best candidate.”
The Knoxville News Sentinel:
“[Haslam’s] management of the city indicates he would manage the state’s affairs with competence as well. Haslam’s campaign has remained positive and focused on the skills he would bring to the governor’s office, despite the sniping of his opponents. He has come off as the most reasonable, civil and thoughtful of the GOP hopefuls.”