During the last two weeks, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey made official what had previously only been hinted at, he is running for governor. By virtue of his office, Ramsey immediately becomes a ‘top-tier’ candidate.
However, with a multi-millionaire Knoxville Mayor and a Chattanooga congressman already in the mix raising money and constructing organizations, some wonder if Ramsey can truly compete in a two to three way race in which he is prohibited from raising money during the legislative session.
That wondering should cease.
Certainly, it won't be easy. Mayor Bill Haslam and Rep. Zach Wamp are formidable but Ramsey holds cards that other candidates cannot trump.
Ramsey is in many ways a perfect synthesis of his two major opponents. Wamp is a conservative. He can deliver the red meat and push those hot buttons in the perfect combination on the stump to get the base pumped. But he has little in terms of executive experience and he has not shown much of the pragmatic leadership most folks want to see in a Governor.
Haslam, Ramsey’s other major opponent, is the polar opposite. The textbook example of a studied, pragmatic executive leader, Haslam has a tin ear when it comes to the ideological base of the modern TNGOP. While Tennessee Republicans have time and again embraced the moderate Republicans in the Howard Baker mold, most of these moderates at least attempted to feign rock-ribbed allegiance to movement conservatism.
Haslam has yet to show that willingness and clearly lacks the fire for issues that animate conservative primary voters.
Ramsey, however, boasts the virtues of both Haslam and Wamp. Ramsey cannot be questioned as an ideological conservative yet his leadership in the Senate puts him alongside Haslam as an example of pragmatic leadership.
Of course, Ramsey won't be able to go dollar for dollar with Haslam in fundraising. He cannot simply write himself a check and he cannot raise funds during the legislative session. But, then again, he doesn't really have to. Haslam will have to burn cash getting his name identification up and his name in the paper. Ramsey will not. He won’t need to raise money during the legislative session to get his name out there because his name will be out there whenever he wants it to be.
Ramsey will be the one setting the agenda in the General Assembly. On the stump, he won't have to talk about what he is going to do when he gets into executive residence, he will be able to talk about what he is doing at that moment. If Ramsey wants to talk about guns on the trail, he can bring up a gun bill. If he wants to talk about abortion, he can bring up an abortion bill.
Not only can he set the agenda of the campaign, he can set the tone. If Wamp and Haslam were to lose the primary for governor, the day after, they would just be private citizens. The day after Ramsey loses? He's still the lieutenant governor. He’s still the man a Gov. Wamp or a Gov. Haslam would need to see to get their legislative package through. He’s still the man in control of the Senate.
Win or lose, Ramsey is not a bridge either Wamp or Haslam can afford to burn. In a political dogfight, this puts his opponents at a severe disadvantage. So while Haslam's considerable wealth and the implicit backing of Sen. Lamar Alexander's political machine still make him the favorite. Ron Ramsey is not a candidate to be dismissed. This, my friends, is a true primary.
Kleinheider is NashvillePost.com's political blogger. Visit Post Politics at http://postpolitics.net