High-profile Tennesseans back presidential candidates, prep to pursue contributions

Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 10:05pm

Earlier this year, Middle Tennessee was inundated by swarms of cicadas, awaking from their 13-year incubation period and buzzing around us until they met their demise on many of our windshields.

A new swarm is gathering — one that feeds on green, and their incessant buzzing will come from cell phones and gossip. They are the fundraisers for the 2012 presidential campaign cycle, and they are coming out of their four-year hibernation to make a big push for Tennesseans’ cash to infuse their campaign coffers.

While by no means is Tennessee the richest ground for presidential or political fundraising (that honor goes to the District of Columbia and California), it has consistently ranked well within the top 20 nationally for more than a decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

A major reason for that has to do with the fact that since 1988, the state has seen a native son make a run for either president or vice president in every election with the exception of 2004. 

Though it is uncertain whether there will be a Tennessean on the ballot for vice president on the Republican Party ticket, this election cycle to date has seen some big names in Tennessee political circles attached to national figures. 

Those power brokers, who will be behind the push for financial support from the state’s GOP supporters, include Nashville real estate investor Ted Welch. The longtime GOP heavyweight is supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney again this year, as is Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty.

Tom Ingram, the political campaign guru behind Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam, has cast his lot with former Utah governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Former Knoxville Mayor and Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe is supporting Huntsman as well, and will be hosting a fundraiser for him in October.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey took to Facebook earlier this month and penned a letter offering strong support to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Given the amount of sway Ramsey has with his GOP colleagues in the state legislature, don’t be surprised to see more elected officials join this team.

A Middle Tennessean with a unique perspective on all of the early jockeying for support is Nashville attorney Joseph A. “Woody” Woodruff.

Woodruff hasn’t yet signed on with any campaign, but he has plenty of suitors given his previous experience in presidential politics. He served as director and corporate secretary of Friends of Fred Thompson, the official campaign entity for the 2008 Thompson presidential campaign. Woodruff served as surrogate for Thompson at a caucus in Iowa and went to South Carolina in the final days of the primary in the Palmetto State.

“The 2012 presidential race — at least the GOP primary portion of it — is well under way in Tennessee,” Woodruff, a partner at Waller, Lansden, Dortch & Davis PLLC, told The City Paper. “If this were a NASCAR race, I would say the candidates and their committees are through turn one and about to enter turn number two. Judging from the frequency and variety of unsolicited phone calls, it looks to me as if several of the ‘front-runner’ candidates are pretty well-organized in Tennessee and are very energetic in efforts to recruit supporters and raise money.”

Asked about the reach the current GOP field has in the state, Woodruff replied, “Unlike 2008, when Fred Thompson’s campaign launched from and had one of its headquarters in Nashville, there isn’t a candidate with deep local ties in the GOP field. Mitt Romney, however, appears to have kept his 2008 organization in good shape, and he had a very robust presence in Tennessee last time. Michele Bachman has a core of very energetic and committed supporters in Tennessee who are working hard on her behalf. I haven’t been contacted by anyone from Gov. Perry’s campaign, but I suspect that is only a matter of time. Gov. Perry appears to be well-organized and is certainly not going to overlook the talent pool in Tennessee. The historic ties between the Volunteer State and the Republic of Texas ought to make Tennessee very hospitable to the Perry campaign.”  

In contrast, Woodruff said Newt Gingrich is struggling in the state. “I don’t know of anyone who is working Tennessee for [Gingrich],” he said. “This is both good news and bad for the former speaker. The bad news is that he doesn’t seem to have anyone working for him in one of the deepest of deep red states. The good news is that there is no one in Tennessee who could quit on him to join another campaign.”

While in the past few years, Tennessee has undoubtedly joined the category of “deep red states,” it doesn’t mean that those that want to turn it back to blue have given up on the green.

According to the campaign of Barack Obama 2012, Nashvillians Charles Robert Bone, Bill Freeman and Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester are already in the club that has raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for the president’s re-election. Much of that money was raised for an event that was to be hosted by Congressman Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and featured Vice President Joe Biden. But the inter-party squabble over the debt ceiling forced both men to stay in Washington and the event never happened.

Speaking to his fundraising efforts, attorney Bone, a partner at Bone McAllester Norton PLLC, said, “Tennessee, and particularly Middle Tennessee, has always had a committed group of Democratic contributors who have been active and involved at the national level. I do not expect that this cycle will be any different.”

David Garrison, treasurer of the Tennessee Democratic Party and an Obama delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, expanded on the point.

“While the GOP presidential candidates are duking it out, Tennessee Democrats are united behind President Obama,” said Garrison, a partner at Barrett Johnston, LLC. “Just like in 2008, the president’s fundraising efforts are focused on low-dollar contributions from average Americans. This grassroots effort resulted in record-breaking fundraising for the president’s campaign on a national level, and allowed him to match the McCain campaign’s fundraising numbers here in Tennessee.”

Regardless of where Tennesseans stand and which candidates they support now or after the presidential primary season is over, they should expect the phone calls, e-mails and ads to reach a crescendo long after they wish the note had faded away.

Right now, candidates and their high-profile supporters want access to wallets more than votes.   

5 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 8/29/11 at 5:31

It comes as no surprise that Jon Huntsman, President OBama's Ambassador
to China for 2 yrs.) is the choice of Senator Alexander and Tom Ingram. After all,
he's the one with the most personal money and choice of the Washington
RINO establishment. He is also one of those being praised by the Press
for obvious reasons: They are praising the one's least likely to beat the
President and ridicule any candidate which will bring a competitive and
contrasting populist driven campaign!

By: gdiafante on 8/29/11 at 5:44

Want some cheese with that whine, gov?

The problem, as I see it, is that we're talking about an election that is over 12 months away. If the media can be faulted it's because they seem to perpetuate this continual election cycle...I could care less about the election right now, I would rather focus on the leaders that have already been elected and what they're going to do regarding the economy, etc.

By: cashnthings on 8/29/11 at 6:30

Ron Paul 2012. No surprise none of the political hacks from TN are behind the only true choice out there.

By: macjedi on 8/29/11 at 8:36

I expect the xenophobic masses in TN and their "leaders" to have an easy time raising money agains the scary black man in D.C.


By: Nitzche on 8/30/11 at 7:33

i know i went to tsu, but that comment is brilliant!