In or Out?

Technically, Marsha could still be either.

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Guess what? Contrary to most news reports, 7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn has not renounced the idea of running for the U.S. Senate in 2006. Nor did the statement she released back on February 11th say so.

Moreover, Blackburn -- interviewed in Memphis Saturday night at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner of the Shelby County Republican Party -- declined, when pressed on the issue, to make a categorical statement of noncandidacy. What she said instead: "Well, we'll just have to see."

The kernel of her February 11th statement, headed "Blackburn Announces Senate Decision in a Letter to the People of Tennessee," was to be found in the last two paragraphs of that lengthy document. They read as follows:

"I will remain in the House and serve the 7th Congressional District for the next two years as we fight to promote a culture of life, protect family values, and reduce government spending. I have been touched and honored by all those across the state who have asked me to consider a run for the U.S. Senate, but now is the time for my focused work in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Tennessee and the Republican Party are fortunate to have an emerging field of talented and dedicated individuals willing to serve the state. I wish them well. And, I want to assure all those who support our ideals that, as in the past, I will be there to lend my voice and my energy to electing a strong conservative Republican senator in 2006."

It was pointed out to Rep. Blackburn Saturday night that the first of those paragraphs can be interpreted as meaning no more than that she will serve out the two-year term she won in her successful reelection campaign last year -- a fact which would not preclude a Senate campaign in 2006. She smiled and chose not to rebut such an interpretation. Instead, she said only that the statement reads "exactly the way I wanted it to."

It was also pointed out to Blackburn that the promise in the concluding paragraph of her statement to "lend my voice and my energy to electing a strong conservative Republican senator in 2006" was not inconsistent with the possibility of herself being that "strong conservative" candidate. Again, she affirmed only that the statement, as written, reflected her sentiments and declined to make a more categorical statement of noncandidacy.

Was it possible that future events could still result in her becoming a Senate candidate, after all? "Well, we'll just have to see," she repeated.

The three Republican Senate candidates declared so far -- former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, and state representative Beth Harwell -- were on hand for the Shelby County Lincoln Day dinner, as was former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, whose announcement of candidacy is imminently expected ("I'll have something to say probably within the next 10 days," he said Saturday night). All four were present too at Thursday night's Williamson County Lincoln Day Dinner, where they each spoke briefly. They did not speak at the Memphis event, which was addressed by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, though Blackburn made some brief remarks.

Will she be asked for further clarification of her February 11th statement, or will the media and the field of declared Senate hopefuls just let it be? Well, that's something we'll just have to see too.

n Saturday night's GOP dinner was the swan song for outgoing Shelby County chairman Kemp Conrad. He will be succeeded at next Sunday's biennial Republican convention at White Station High School by Bill Giannini, who is unopposed.

During his term, Conrad made a point of stressing minority outreach, and Jackson's appearance Saturday night capped those efforts, in a sense. For his part, the HUD secretary, an African American, extolled what he said were the civil rights contributions of such deceased Republican luminaries as Illinois senator Everett Dirksen and President Dwight Eisenhower. Jackson also criticized two late Democratic senators -- J. William Fulbright of Arkansas (accurately) and Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee (perhaps inaccurately) for obstructing civil rights legislation. He further said the Ku Klux Klan had originated as a "extension of the Democrats."

n Ironically, the race for the state Senate seat in predominantly Democratic District 33, vacated last month by Shelby County mayoral aide Roscoe Dixon, now has more GOP candidates than Democrats. Republicans running are Mary Lynn Flood, Jason Hernandez, Mary Ann McNeil, and Barry Sterling. Democrats remaining, pending the result of an appeal by Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks, are state representative Kathryn Bowers and James Harvey. Hooks was disqualified by the state Election Registry for failure to file financial disclosures, while state representative Joe Towns withdrew after being ruled ineligible for failure to pay previous fines assessed by the registry for incomplete or absent disclosures.

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