Tennessee GOP primary: Bill Haslam's win fits Election 2010 trends

Bill Haslam won almost 48 percent of the vote in the Tennessee GOP primary for governor. Like some other Republican moderates, he prevailed over 'tea party' candidates and is self-funded.

Mark Humphrey/AP
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam speaks to supporters on Thursday, Aug. 5, in Nashville, Tenn., after he was declared the party's winner in Tennessee's primary election.

The victory of Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam in Tennessee’s Republican gubernatorial primary fits three trends that have emerged this campaign season.

1. Mayor Haslam, who beat two serious competitors Thursday with almost 48 percent of the vote, was considered the moderate in the field. His win dealt another blow to the conservative “tea party” movement, which has failed to get its favored candidates nominated in recent GOP primaries, including those for governor of Michigan and the open US Senate seat in Kansas.

2. Haslam represents yet another successful “self-funder” in a political season marked by a slew of wealthy candidates. The Knoxville mayor is former president of his family’s petroleum business, the Pilot Corp., and spent more than $8.7 million to win the primary. He joins former eBay CEO Meg Whitman(California), former HP CEO Carly Fiorina (California), former Gateway CEO Rick Snyder (Michigan), former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (Connecticut), and real-estate billionaire Jeff Greene (Florida) as competitors for major office. Of those, all but Mr. Greene are Republicans.

3. One of Haslam’s competitors in the Tennessee primary was Rep. Zach Wamp, who came in a distant second with 29 percent of the vote. Congressman Wamp’s defeat was the latest in a string of House members who have lost gubernatorial bids, a sign that voters are rejecting candidates linked to Washington. The others are Artur Davis (D) of Alabama, J. Gresham Barrett (R) of South Carolina, and Peter Hoekstra (R) of Michigan. Recently resigned Rep. Nathan Deal (R) of Georgia came in second in his primary and is competing in a runoff next Tuesday. The only recent gubernatorial primary winner currently in the House is Rep. Mary Fallin (R) of Oklahoma.

Aside from never having served in Washington, Haslam benefited in his race from gaffes by the other candidates. Wamp last month seemed to suggest that Tennessee should secede from the United States over the mandates in the new health-care reform law. Wamp later backed away from the idea. The other major competitor in the primary, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, got in trouble for a comment – posted on YouTube – in which he suggested that Islam may be a cult. The lieutenant governor, who had been backed by 20 tea party organizations, got 22 percent of the vote.

Haslam heads into the Nov. 2 general election in a strong position against Democratic businessman Mike McWherter, son of former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter (D).

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.