NASHVILLE — All three Republican presidential candidates — or at least the ones who, in Rick Santorum's phrase, "have won states" — are making their presence felt in Tennessee this week as the Volunteer State gets ready to pick a leader in the ever evolving contest for the GOP nomination to oppose President Obama, who has no Democratic opposition.
Santorum himself, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, has made two trips so far to Tennessee. He was in Chattanooga last weekend for an appearance before a Tea Party group. And he was in Nashville all day Wednesday, making the rounds, including a Steve Gill radio show and an evening address at Belmont University. (Story to follow.)
Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives,was in Chattanooga and Nashville earlier in the week, working in a rally at the state Capitol and an appearance before the members of the Republican legislative caucus.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, still the presumed frontrunner in the GOP race, has of yet made no plans for a personal appearance in Tennesse, though Governor Bill Haslam, who will appear Thursday afternoon at a Romney rally at Jason's Deli on Poplar in Memphis, has been doing surrogate duty for Romney.
Democratic officials in Nashville held a statewide press conference by telephone Thursday to coincide with the Romneyless Romney rally in Memphis.
The press conference, conducted by Democratic state chairman Chip Forrester, state House Democratic chairman Mike Turner, and UAW official Mike Herron, dealt exclusively with Romney and focused critically on the former Michigan governor's laissez-faire attitude toward the domestic automobile industry, which was imperilled last year but was able to survive and rebound with aid from federal sources.
Asked why no mention was being made of Santorum, who apparently leads in statewide polls, Turner acknowledged that Santorum seemed to be doing better than Romney in Tenessee but said that the expansion of primary voting on Super Tuesday and beyond will make it increasingly difficult for other GOP candidates to keep pace with the well financed and organized Romney.
The fact that Romney, unlike Gingrich and Santorum, apparetly plans no appearances in Tennessee this week, does confirm, however, that "he reads the polls," Turner said. "Some of them [Republican voters] just have problems getting their arms around him." And that fact, he said, augured well for President Obama in the fall.
More details to come.