The 2006 Senate field begins to expand.


DRAWING A CROWD Enlarged and refocused, the projected 2006 U.S. Senate race picture in Tennessee may prove something more of a crowd scene than seemed the case a year ago. Both the Democratic and Republican primaries for the seat now occupied by GOP Majority Leader Bill Frist promise to be hotly contested affairs, clogged with bigfoot entrants. No longer is Memphis' 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr. considered a sure Democratic nominee for the seat, which Frist will likely vacate in order to prepare for his projected 2008 presidential run. Persistent reports indicate that Nashville mayor Bill Purcell is determined to compete for the Democratic Senate nomination -- a circumstance that would fan the always smoldering Nashville-Memphis political rivalry. And Republican competition is likely to be even more intense, with former congressman Van Hilleary, the 2002 GOP gubernatorial nominee and his party's newly elected national committeeman, considered likely to make a run. Also thinking long and hard about the race is Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, whose long-standing designs on the governorship are presumably blocked by incumbent Democratic governor Phil Bredesen's current high approval ratings. Other Republican Senate hopefuls include Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp (who might, however, defer to Corker), former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, and, possibly, current 7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, whose statewide vote-getting potential is considered formidable. Governor Phil Bredesen achieved one of his hardest-fought legislative victories in the last week of this year's session of the General Assembly, when he prevailed on reluctant fellow Democrats to join Republicans in passing a cost-cutting workers' compensation reform bill, reducing the "multiplier" (the number determining the ceiling of benefits and awards) from 2.5 to 1.5. Some Democrats remain discontented -- notably Bill Farmer of Lebanon, immediate past chairman of the state Democratic Party and also a pillar of state trial lawyers' organizations, which bitterly opposed the legislation. Farmer got his revenge last week when he responded to a fund-raising letter from Bredesen on behalf of Democratic members of the legislature. Suggested donations ranged from $100 to $500, with a blank on the invitation form titled "Other." "Thank you for your kind invitation," wrote Farmer, who continued, "I have enclosed my reply card and check for One Point Five Dollars ($1.50) for my contribution" [Farmer's boldface].

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