Politics » Politics Feature

Frist in the Bubble

But seven other GOP gubernatorial hopefuls wait it out.



Various Tennesseans — including 7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn and former U.S. senator Fred Thompson, a de facto keynote speaker — got spots on the dais at last week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, but the most widely watched member of the state's contingent, at least by fellow Tennesseans, was another ex-senator, Bill Frist.

Frist, like Blackburn, had a prime-time speaking spot on Thursday night, preceding the acceptance speech by GOP nominee John McCain. But that wasn't the reason he was so closely eyeballed by delegation members and other attendees from the Volunteer State.

The former Republican majority leader happens to be the 800-pound gorilla in speculation about the 2010 Tennessee governor's race. And there are seven fellow Republicans — including two Shelby Countians — who nurse ambitions to be governor but are prepared to shelve their plans if Frist decides to make the race. (Not so fast there, readers; that doesn't make them dwarves any more than it makes Frist Snow White.)

Not too coincidentally, all seven hopefuls were on hand in Minnesota for the convention to work the delegation and to check signals with Frist. The attendees were: District Attorney General Bill Gibbons and state senator Mark Norris, both of Shelby County; Blackburn; 3rd District representative ZachWamp; former state representative and ex-state GOP chair Beth Harwell; Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey; and Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam.

Ramsey and Wamp sponsored receptions for the delegation, and Wamp made bold to importune Frist as to his intentions, as did Norris. Neither got much in the way of an answer, although Frist has previously indicated he would make a decision on running by the end of the year.

For what it's worth, Frist added his testimony to what is becoming a consensus among Tennesseans who have served with Republican nominee McCain in the Senate: Just as advertised, the war hero/maverick has a stormy temper and can be hard to get along with.

Previously weighing in on the topic in statements to the Flyer were current senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Frist offered his unsolicited commentary in the course of addressing the Tennessee delegation at breakfast last Thursday morning.

"I had to put up with John McCain every single day, and it was hard," Frist said. But he professed himself to be in agreement with a statement made to the convention on the previous night by vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who in her acceptance address advocated "tak[ing] the maverick out of the Senate and putting him in the White House."

Frist also told some extended anecdotes about Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's tenure in the Senate, which overlapped with his own. Frist characterized Obama as something of a self-aggrandizer more interested in log rolling with the media than with policy matters.

As an ironic counterpoint to that, Frist predicted that this year's presidential contest between McCain and Obama will be based more on personality than on issues.

• Some measure of the impact made by Palin on the convention — and on McCain's prospects in the election — was in the reaction by relative moderates in the Tennessee delegation to her stem-winding Wednesday-night address.

Qualifying for that definition were Gibbons, John Elkington, and Ken Hall — all of whom arguably have as many Democratic friends and connections as Republican ones. All three guffawed, hurrahed, whooped, applauded, and repeated key Palin lines in tandem with the rest of the cheering delegates.

Indeed, to have been on the convention floor last Wednesday night was to have witnessed spontaneous delirium. Whatever shortcomings the first-term Alaska governor may turn out to have, there was no doubting that her well-received address did indeed help to solidify the party base and ease McCain's burdens.

When the nominee himself appeared the next night, the pressure on him to match the previous week's eloquence at Denver's Invesco Field by Democrat Barack Obama was off. The new GOP narrative, focusing on McCain's status as a warrior and maverick, had been spoken to so often by Palin and other warm-up speakers that it was sufficient for McCain to appear onstage and bask in the delegates' warmth.

Which is not to say that the nominee didn't speak well. He did, modestly and confidently, and the post-convention "bump" the Republican team got in the weekend polls was a sure indication that the next two months will see a close and hotly contested race.

• Inasmuch as the Tennessee GOP delegation shared hotel and breakfast-room space with the Alaska delegation, there was a running anticipation all week that Palin might make an appearance at one of the joint morning meetings held by the two state delegations. It didn't happen, though from state Republican chair Robin Smith, Blackburn, and other speakers such as former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee came frequent warnings to beware the treatment of Palin by the godawful "liberal media."

Paul Shaffer Withstands Challenge in District 9 Race

The two major contestants for the District 9, Position 1 City Council seat being vacated by Chairman Scott McCormick spent last week in altogether different modes.

City Council candidate Kemp Conrad in St. Paul last week with Babs Chase of the State Department, wife Ann Conrad, and Beale Street impresario John Elkington - BY JACKSON BAKER
  • by Jackson Baker
  • City Council candidate Kemp Conrad in St. Paul last week with Babs Chase of the State Department, wife Ann Conrad, and Beale Street impresario John Elkington

Businessman Kemp Conrad was in Minneapolis-St. Paul attending the Republican National Convention and rubbing shoulders with GOP nominees John McCain and Sarah Palin. Back in Memphis, meanwhile, IBEW business manager Paul Shaffer was hobnobbing with lawyers and supporters as he dealt with a formal challenge to his residency brought by Republican Election Commission member Robert Meyers.

Conrads opponent, Paul Shaffer (center), waiting out the Election Commissions decision on his residency with reporters and lawyer David Cocke (foreground) - BY JACKSON BAKER
  • by Jackson Baker
  • Conrads opponent, Paul Shaffer (center), waiting out the Election Commissions decision on his residency with reporters and lawyer David Cocke (foreground)

Meyers charged that Shaffer's true residence was on Horn Lake Road, an address which Shaffer had listed previously on his voting record and one lying outside the boundaries of the district. Upon examination, however, the Election Commission concluded that Shaffer did indeed reside within District 9 at a Jefferson Avenue address. Accordingly, Meyers dropped his challenge at a commission meeting on Friday.

Conrad kept busy at the convention and, by the serendipity of having a friend who was general counsel at the RNC, was designated as an escort and bodyguard to the families of John McCain and Sarah Palin on the last two nights of the convention.

Though the council race, which will be voted on in November, is formally nonpartisan and support for the two main candidates overlaps to some degree, Conrad, who has raised upwards of $100,000, can count on the Republican Party's support, while Shaffer will have backing from Shelby County Democrats.

Two other candidates — former Shelby County commissioner John Willingham and Arnett Montague — will also be on the ballot. — JB

New Commission Chair

Deidre Malone took over the reins from outgoing Shelby County Commission chairman David Lillard at Monday's commission meeting. Malone is the first African-American woman to hold the chairmanship.

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