Rout, who considered running for governor this year before opting out of both a gubernatorial race and a race for reelection as mayor, went barnstorming Thursday in a statewide fly-around on behalf of former State Representative Jim Henry of Kingston, who seeks the Republican nomination for governor. That puts Rout on the other side of the GOP primary race from 7th District U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, who is holding a press conference this weekend to indicate his support for his congressional colleague, 4th District congressman Van Hilleary.
The Shelby County mayor and son Rick Rout, who is Henry's Shelby County field rep, accompanied the candidate all the way from the Tri-Cities in northeast Tennessee to the one-day tour's final stop in Memphis late Thursday afternoon.
"I knew I'd be working for a gubernatorial candidate named Jim. I just thought it would be a different Jim," cracked Rick Rout as he presided over the occasion at Memphis in the Signature Air terminal at the airport. (Besides his father, two other Tennessee dignitaries -- former Mayor Gene Roberts of Chattanooga and Mayor Dave Bradshaw of Oak Ridge accompanied Henry on the plane tour.)
After being introduced by Rout Sr., Henry responded angrily to his third-place position in a poll released by presumed GOP frontrunner Hilleary calling the poll "bogus" and pronouncing Hilleary unelectable.
The poll, carried out under Hilleary auspices, showed the 4th District congressman running first among Republicans, little-known Bob Tripp second, and Henry third.
Henry challenged the poll's authenticity and said, "We [Republicans[ don't need to be involved in something like that." And he responded with a firm "No!" when asked if Hilleary, who is vacating his 4th District congressional seat to run for governor, could be elected.
"With the kind of trouble the state is in, people are looking for someone with experience in local and state government. They don't want to take any chances," said Henry, who cited "the good old days" when he worked with former Governor Lamar Alexander in several capacities, including that of House Republican leader.
Declining to reveal how much money he had raised in his campaign so far, the former state representative and Kingston mayor chided Hilleary for several press releases publicizing the congressman's purported receipts, saying, "If you make this a money game, we might as well concede the election to Phil Bredesen. (Former Nashville mayor Bredesen, a Democratic candidate for governor, is independently wealthy and has also issued a press release claiming fundraising totals of $3.1 million.)
Henry said the supporters in attendance at the terminal that the election should be about "trust" and that he trusted the people to vote via referendum on whether or not the state should have an income tax.
Henry agreed with Hilleary about one matter, however -- that of declining to sign an anti-income tax pledge. "It would be irresponsible for a potential governor to take a position like that, especially if we're asking the people to vote on it," said Henry, who said he personally opposed a state income tax.