Amid rampant reports that his chief Democratic rival for the governorship, U.S. Rep. Bob Clement (D-Nashville) would, sometime this week, announce his non-participation in the 2002 race, ex-Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen came, saw, and conquered at a Democratic Party fundraiser here Tuesday night.
The fundraiser, at the East Memphis home of former Shelby County Democratic chairman John Farris, was kept scrupulously neutral in the intra-party sense by both Farris and state Democratic chairman Bill Farmer, who also attended, but virtually everyone on hand privately professed support for Bredesen's gubernatorial bid.
Included were Farris himself, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, and former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris.
The accessions of Herenton and Morris to Bredesen's cause were especially interesting in that the Memphis mayor went through the entire 1994 gubernatorial campaign without endorsing Bredesen, then the Democratic standard-bearer, and Morris was the then Nashville mayor's chief primary opponent that year.
The Farris fundraiser was only the latest Bredesen visit to Memphis over the past several weeks. Much of the weekend was spent here as well Ñ the candidate shmoozing with Herenton and other local dignitaries of the political and business worlds. He didn't touch base with members of the Ford political organization but was scheduled for a sitdown with former congressman Harold Ford Sr. this week.
Bredesen said he had not heard directly from Clement during the past week, during which there was growing word-of-mouth concerning the congressman's imminent departure from the gubernatorial race.
An equally strong rumor, reinforced at the fundraiser by friends of former state party chairman Doug Horne of Knoxville, was that Horne intended to run if Clement declined to. That set up the prospect of an inevitable Battle of Millionaires Ñ an intensely fought one between Bredesen, a former health care executive, and Horne, whose various interests run from publishing to truckng, but one kept free of rancor.
Farris said it was important for Bredesen (and presumably for Horne also) to raise significant grass-roots money for the race. "People don't want to get the idea that anyone is trying to buy the office," he said.