BY JACKSON BAKER | JUNE 24, 2007
NASHVILLE -- The name of McWherter, prominent in Tennessee politics for most of the latter 20th century, will apparently resurface in fairly short order, as Jackson lawyer and businessman Mike McWherter, son of two-term former governor Ned McWherter, is making clear his plans to challenge U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander's reelection bid next year.
Apparently only one thing could derail Democrat McWherter -- a renewed Senate candidacy by former Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., who last year narrowly -- lost a Senate race to the current Republican incumbent, Bob Corker. "I don't think I would compete against Harold. But I don't think he will run," McWherter said in an interview with The Flyer at Saturday's annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville.
Fresh from his his service as treasurer in state Senator Lowe Finney's win last year (taking back a Democratic seat from Don McLeary, considered by McWherter a "turncoat" after changing party affiliations in 2005), the 52-year-old activist is now focusing on Alexander, whom McWherter sees as a slavish follower of President George W. Bush.
"With one or two exceptions, he's done everything the president has wanted him to do. He's toed the party line," said McWherter, who has recently paid courtesy calls on ranking Democrats, both in Tennessee and in Washington, D.C., informing them of his interest in running next year and soliciting their support. He is getting active encouragement from Gray Sasser, state Democratic chairman and son of an influential former officeholder himself, former Senator and Ambassador Jim Sasser.
There's no doubt that former governor McWherter remains highly popular among Tennesseans and had considerable crossover potential during his active political career. Both those facts are boosts for Mike McWherter's chances against a senator who has enormous name identification and, in winning races for governor and senator, has demonstrated appeal across party lines himself.