BRYANT IN. WILL WHITE HOUSE BOOST ALEXANDER?

BRYANT IN. WILL WHITE HOUSE BOOST ALEXANDER?

Posted by Jackson Baker on Mon, Mar 11, 2002 at 4:00 AM

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A statement released by 7th District U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant Saturday apparently has committed him to a race for the U.S. Senate of incumbent Republican Fred Thompson, who on Friday announced his surprise decision to end his reelection effort.

Bryant had said Friday night, on the occasion of his introducing Thompson at a Madison County Republican dinner, that nothing short of unmistakable White House pressure on former Governor Lamar Alexander's behalf could keep him from the race -- even if it meant tangling with Alexander.

Since the former governor has also indicated a firm intention to run and will evidently announce as much at a press conference on Monday, a one-on-one seems ordained from this year's GOP primary. Inasmuch as U.S. Rep. Zach Warmp of Chattanooga is also considering the race, the Republican Senate primary could turn into a three-way affair.

Bryant has long been a known aspirant for the seat, which he had eyed for years, long before Alexander's first expression of interest a year ago.

The 7th District congressman had let it be known back then that if Thompson decided against a reelection bid, he would compete for the Senate seat -- even if Alexander also pursued it.

That is still the case, as Bryant’s circle and the congressman made a point of indicating all day Friday and as Bryant made explicit in his Saturday statement.

At the Madison County Republican party Lincoln Day dinner in Jackson, where Bryant introduced keynote speaker Thompson Friday night, Bryant said, ”I’m definitely running,” adding after a subtle pause, “if it’s an open race.” He defined that as being a contest in which “the White House” did not intervene on behalf of someone else -- namely, Alexander.

Bryant said Tennessee’s other Senator, Bill Frist, had made it clear to him that, as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he would not attempt to single out for preference Alexander -- whom Frist acknowledged last year having cultivated as a possible Senate successor to Thompson.

In the unlikely event that Alexander should change his mind and not run, Bryant would still have a rival on the primary trail: former state Republican chairman Chip Saltsman, who, before Thompson’s announcement of a year ago, had been prepared to compete for the nomination with Bryant.

Saltsman, however, would not run against Alexander, whether or not the former governor had the imprimatur of George W. Bush's White House.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of Bryant's being a Senate candidate freed up at least one potential candidate for his 7th District seat. Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor, one of several congressional wannabes whose bid for the Bryant seat had been holding fire until it became officially open, announced he would be a candidate.

Another probable candidate is Memphis lawyer David Kustoff, the 2000 state campaign manager for President Bush and now campaign manager for Shelby County Sheriff's candidate Mark Luttrell.

Reached Sunday upon his return from a weekend trip to Florida, Kustoff said he would declare for the 7th District seat as soon as he was convinced that Rep. Bryant intended to vacate it. In practical terms, Kustoff said, that might mean "when he files the papers."

(Kustoff discounted absolutely an earlier report that he might be willing to consider a key role in an Alexander Senate campaign.)

Another possible entry in the 7th District race is state Senator Marsha Blackburn, whose Williamson County bailiwick now belongs within the district via the most recent reapportionment.

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The text of Rep. Bryant's statement Saturday reads as follows:

"Yesterday, I said I would give full consideration to running for the United States Senate to succeed Senator Fred Thompson, a man and public servant for whom I hold the highest respect. Since then, I have spoken with numerous Tennesseans across the state about what is best for Tennessee in light of Senator Thompson’s decision. I could not have asked for stronger encouragement and support.

"I believe it is essential for Tennessee to continue having the same kind of effective leadership and representation that we have had from our Senators since 1995. It is also crucial for our Party to have a Senate that can work together with President George W. Bush instead of attacking and obstructing his positive, compassionate conservative agenda. It is for these reasons that I am committing myself to this race and becoming Tennessee’s next United States Senator."

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