Post Politics: Long shot gubernatorial campaign gets a little longer

Monday, June 29, 2009 at 1:48am

10 to 10. That was the final tally when the state House’s Calender and Rules Committee voted on HB0198, a bill which would have allowed current state lawmakers running for governor to raise funds during the legislative session. One vote short of a majority, the bill failed.

That failure was just one in a series of setbacks Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey's gubernatorial campaign sustained in the last week of the legislative session. Failing to pass that bill means that next year, however long the legislature is in session, Ramsey will be unable to raise campaign funds.

If one uses this year as a guide, that would mean that from early January to mid-June no monies can be raised by a gubernatorial campaign going up against a sitting Congressman and a man with an unlimited bank account. That would give Ramsey less than two months after session in which to raise money before the primary on Aug. 5, 2010.

Of course, money isn't everything in a gubernatorial election. Terry McAuliffe in Virginia taught us that. Ramsey does have advantages that the other candidates do not. Ramsey, unlike Zack Wamp, Bill Gibbons or Bill Haslam, will be able to not just talk about the issues; he will be on the news leading and legislating on the issues.

However, cliché or not, money is the mother's milk of politics. To run a statewide campaign you need more than just a few million dollars. And while it would be impossible to match Knoxville mayor Haslam dollar for dollar, Ramsey would prefer to get close and make the Knoxville mayor drop as much coin as possible.

Ramsey cannot do that if he has to raise the bulk of the money he will need to run a campaign over 14 months during the next six.

Of course, the cause is not completely lost. The legislature does reconvene in January. If the General Assembly were to take up the bill again early in the session and pass it out, Ramsey could theoretically have his fundraising operation up again by February.

There’s one problem with this. Ramsey only controls one chamber of the Assembly. He can push legislation out of the Senate in short order no problem. The House is another matter.

Now, if everything back in January had gone like Ramsey envisioned, Jason Mumpower would be Speaker and we wouldn't even be talking about this. But things didn't go as planned. Kent Williams, not Mumpower, is the Speaker of the House.

Whether it is getting that fundraising restriction lifted or getting the legislature adjourned quickly, Ramsey will need Williams' cooperation. The question is: How does he get it?

One of the things Ramsey could offer up is his help in obtaining Williams' reentry into the Republican Party. With a new chairman and at least two of the gubernatorial candidates offering words of support for the Carter County Republican Speaker, Ramsey and his influence is one of the few roadblocks between Williams and the Republican ballot line in 2010.

Of course, that would require compromise and risk angering the conservative base. That's the kind of thing that got Ramsey into trouble on another front this session: the budget.

The Senate Republicans came out with a strongly conservative answer to the governor's budget initially. Whether it was ultimately workable or not, it was a bold move and a shot across the governor's bow. But the governor shot back calling the Republican budget “stupid” and in the end the budget that eventually passed looked more like the governor's original than the one Ramsey touted.

For whatever reason, Ramsey chose pragmatism over principle and while pragmatism is a necessary virtue in statecraft, it can be an unbearable vice in a Republican primary.

After all, if the Republican Right wants a Bredesen-lite, they have that option in Haslam. Ramsey, it would seem, lost of bit of his conservative street cred in not standing taller for that original conservative budget amendment.

On the flipside of that coin, the uproar over the racist email sent by a member of Sen. Diane Black's staff took its toll on the Lt. Governor's image with moderates and the media. While much of “enlightened” opinion across the political spectrum was calling for the staffer to be fired, Ramsey came out publicly supporting only a severe reprimand.

He had no choice but to back Black's play but regardless of that Ramsey was in the media arguing that a woman who sent racist e-mails should keep her job and, well, that ain't good.

Ramsey's shot at the governor's mansion has never been a layup. As long as Haslam is sitting on the pile of money and connections he has, he's going be the man to beat. However, this hat trick of unfortunate circumstances — racist e-mails, compromise on the budget, defeat of the fundraising bill — has made Ramsey's long shot a bit longer.

Kleinheider is NashvillePost.com’s political blogger. Visit Post Politics at postpolitics.net.

1 Comment on this post:

By: Kosh III on 6/29/09 at 9:51

Why not forbid any fundraising by any election seeker while the circus...er...legislature is in session?