The Three Surviving Democratic Candidates Redouble their Efforts in a Changed Governor's Race

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McWherter and Kyle size each other up at S.O.S. meeting in Memphis
  • JB
  • McWherter and Kyle size each other up at "S.O.S." meeting in Memphis
As the remaining Democratic candidates for governor sort things out, one thing appears obvious: The withdrawals from the field of state Senator Roy Herron, now a candidate for Congress in the 8th District, and, to a lesser degree, of Nashville entrepreneur Ward Cammack have begun a redrawing of the battle lines.

All three survivors — Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, state Senator Jim Kyle of Memphis, and former state Representative Kim McMillan of Clarksville — are scrambling for their share of donors and supporters from Herron’s leave-behinds.

And at least two of the candidates — McWherter and Kyle — agree on the reasons for the surprise announcement by 8th District incumbent Democrat that he wouldn’t be seeking reelection in 2010. It was that news from Tanner on Tuesday night that triggered Herron’s change of race and the fast shuffling that followed.

In similar terms, each expressed in Memphis this weekend the same theory — that Tanner, a 22-year veteran of Congress, was unwilling to expend time, energy, and treasure in a campaign already being stoutly contested by Republican Stephen Fincher, just to gain two more years in office.

Based on the possibility that continuing Republican legislative majorities after the 2010 election cycle would result in the drawing of district lines to meet GOP needs, Tanner would then be confronted with a hopeless reelection situation for 2012.

In a conversation with Kyle on Saturday, after the two had addressed a Democratic Party-sponsored “S.O.S.” (for “Save-out-State”) training session for party cadres, McWherter took the scenario a step further, suggesting that Tanner’s opting-out was “good for our party,” in that it would allow a Democratic winner in 2010 time to develop an incumbency and therefore a leg up on the 2012 race in the redesigned 8th District.

One revelation from McWherter, running counter to a conspiracy theory or two suggesting a possible role of the candidate’s father, former Governor Ned McWherter, in prompting Tanner’s decision: The younger McWherter was visiting his father Tuesday night when the former governor got a courtesy phone call from Tanner concerning his decision. “I was floored. We both were,” said candidate McWherter.

McWherter’s appearance at the S.O.S. affair, where he delivered a carefully crafted and thoughtful address on the challenges of the 2010 election season, may well have been augured a new strategy to boost his prospects among still undecided Democrats. Word-of-mouth afterward was uniformly positive, even among some who had harbored doubts previously about the speaking ability of McWherter, a no-show among many of the previous party dinners and forums around the state.

A “rose garden” strategy was how Kyle had dubbed McWherter’s effort up to now. Something like that had been the appraisal of many observers about a campaign that had depended largely on name recognition but may now be morphing into a more public phase.

McWherter had clearly made gains in the immediate wake of Herron’s switchover — especially in the Nashville area. Typical was the announcement this past week from Charles W. Bone and Charles Robert Bone, influential party figures and fundraisers, that they were transferring their allegiance from Herron to McWherter.

For his part, Kyle was concentrating on solidifying his support from organized labor and in picking up his own recruits from among ex-Herron supporters — in the Chattanooga area, especially.

And McMillan, who had spent several days in Memphis this week, was also redoubling her efforts and making phone calls to erstwhile Herron backers.

It is still too early to analyze the results of these several overlapping efforts and the reconfigurations that will follow. But with the New Year of 2010 only a hop, skip, and jump away, it’s a new race. Everybody understands that.

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