DENVER - As is always the case at a national major party convention, would-be office-holders were much in evidence at this week's Democratic National Convention.Such occasions allow for the kind of schmoozing and logrolling and P.R. and balloon-floating - not to mention he occasional fundraising opportunity -- that political campaigns require.
Indeed, a feature of the DNC gathering, one which will be reproduced in kind at next week's Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, was the showcasing in prime time of congressmen and other officials trying to move up to the Senate or to governorships in their states.
Even if such promotional undertakings don't make it to national TV, they certainly go on in a variety of convention venues. Tennessee's 4th District U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, held an early lunch for the state's delegates, for example - and though his remarks were made off the record for media folks, Davis was happy to prose for press pictures. (And the ultra-conservative blue dog probably won't mind it being observed that, in his generally bland remarks, he kept to the 'Democrat Party' usage favored by Republicans.)
Among the other hopefuls rubbing elbows with delegates was former Clarksville State Rep. Kim McMillan, a declared gubernatorial candidate who held a reception for Tennesseans on Wednesday night. And, though he kept busy attending to other functions in his role as state Senate Democratic leader, Jim Kyle of Memphis did not disavow the idea when asked about a tip that he, too, might run for governor in 2010. (First things first, though: After this year's elections, Kyle hopes to be Lt. Governor, a title synonymous with Speaker of the Senate, a post reserved for the majority party.)
The real sleeper among politicians on the move, however, might be Governor Phil Bredesen, who held one gala party for Tennesseans in Denver (as did former congressman Harold Ford Jr., now head of the right/centrist Democratic Leadership Council) and had a major role in two luncheons as either host or featured speaker.
And what might the governor be premeditating for the future? A few hints were provided during a leisurely chat I had with Bredesen during his Tuesday night party at Denver's Hyatt Grand Hotel.
For one thing, he allowed as how he had considered running for the open U.S. Senate seat in 2006 but eventually deferred to Ford and ran for reelection instead. He thought again about a race `this year for the Senate seat now held by Republican Lamar Alexander. Actually, he said, he had been the object of "a full court press" to do so from Senator majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
"I finally decided that I wasn't sure I'd be comfortable in the job," Bredesen said. The governor entertained no doubt whatever that he could have beaten Alexander had he run. "Oh yes, sure," he said.
Bredesen had been among those speculated on as a possible Democratic vice-presidential choice during the last year and had earlier on been mentioned by The New Republic as a possible long-shot presidential contender. During the nip-and-tuck late phase of this year's Democratic primary contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Bredesen sought and got serious attention from the mainstream media when he floated a variety of proposals for breaking the stalemate.
If all of that suggests a man interested in holding
national office a some point, the governor was quick to provide confirmation of
such interests. At one point I asked him if his loss to Republican Don Sundquist
during his first run for he governorship in 1994 might have been a blessing
disguise, given that Sundquist faced a plethora of long-simmering financial
problems during his tenure while Bredesen, then mayor of
Nashville, enhanced his political image by landing the NFL Titans and achieving\ other well-publicized successes.
"No," he said. That defeat upset his timetable and had kept him for laying an early base for what he described as "national" ventures. Pressed on the matter, he acknowledged having nursed thoughts of a presidential run and, in the almost off-handedly self-confident manner that Bredesen-watchers are familiar with, nodded "Yes" when asked if he thought he could step into such a role.
What does come next for the governor when, restricted to two terms by the state constitution, he has to leave office in January of 2011? "Well, I often think of my father going to his office and taking care of his business at the age of 90, and I can see myself doing something like that. I'm going to stay active, that's for sure."
In business or in public service? Either avenue was possible, Bredesen said.