Saturday, January 20, 2001

GORE DESIRED AS U OF M PRESIDENT

GORE DESIRED AS U OF M PRESIDENT

Posted By on Sat, Jan 20, 2001 at 4:00 AM

There's a move on to entice outgoing Vice President Al Gore to consider taking over the reins of the University of Memphis - unclaimed since the resignation last year of former president V. Lane Rawlins to become president of Washington State University. That's the word from Cherrie Holden of Germantown, member of the State Board of Education from the 7th Congressional District, which includes substantial portions of Memphis and Shelby County.

Holden said several members of the university's faculty urged her to take up the matter with her fellow Board members when the state board meets in Nashville next with with the members of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. The university's search for a successor to Rawlins has run into serious and prolonged controversy, with no consensus nominee in sight and several faculty members expressing public embitterment that interim U of M president Ralph Faudree and communications dean Richard Ranta were eliminated from consideration by the Board of Regents search committee. Gore was known to be interested in the open presidency of Harvard University but was among 450 nominees eliminated some weeks back by the Harvard Corporation search committee after Robert G. Stone Jr., a senior fellow of the corporation, publicly stated of Gore's semi-declared candidacy "He doesn't have the academic and intellectual standing." Attention is also being paid in political and media circles, off and on, to the prospect of a Gore candidacy in 2002 for the governorship of Tennessee. The Gore-for-Governor talk has been fueled by the encouragement longtime Gore ally Johnny Hayes has received by the vice president's allies to seek the Tennessee state Democratic chairmanship. Some have also speculated that Gore might be asked assume a ranking position at The Tennessean of Nashville, from which vantage point he could ultimately move up to an executive position in the Gannett organization or to the leadership of the chain's Freedom Forum. Others have suggested that Gore might find a bully pulpit with the First Amendment Center of Nashville, yet another Gannett-related institution.

Sunday, January 14, 2001

RENDERING TO CAESAR

RENDERING TO CAESAR

Posted By on Sun, Jan 14, 2001 at 4:00 AM

GREENVILLE, S.C.-- The good folks (for that is how they see themselves) at Bob Jones University are no doubt astounded to find themselves for the second time in a year -- nay, for the second time in a brand-new millennium -- to be a focus of national, even world attention. Inexorably, it must seem, this monastic tribe is brought out of its preferred backwater by the presence of some or another prominent politician.

In 2000, it was George W. Bush, touching base with the hard core of the Religious Right to win a primary over the insurgent John McCain. Now, in a way, it's president-elect Bush's doing again. He went and nominated another paragon of conservative Christianity, John Ashcroft, to be his attorney general, administerer of the laws and beacon of justice for an increasingly diverse nation. And once the politically correct media found out that Ashcroft had been to Bob Jones last year to receive an honorary degree and speak (actually, the word seeped out in Ashcroft's losing Senate campaign), he, too, was fair game. Why did he do it? What did he say to the faithful? Picky, picky!

That's how it must have seemed, in any case, as the administration of President Bob Jones III settled in for another siege - this one occasioned not by national remonstrations over the school's anti-Catholic persuasion nor by the oddities of its social practices but by the hunt for a possibly mythical tape. Unbelievably, given Ashcroft's prominence as a U.S. Senator and -- in May 199, when he made his remarks at BJU -- by his potential presidential candidacy, his visit was not publicly noted. Not by the local Greenville, South Carolina, media, not by the national media, and not even by BJU's own media (since commencement exercises, by their very nature, mark the end of a school year).

There was no particular evidence that Ashcroft - under fire as his confirmation hearings neared for his attitudes and actions concerning blacks, women, and civil liberties - had said or done anything inflammatory. It was more a case, as the general counsel for one prominent Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee put it, that "Ashcroft is trying to pretend that he's beyond reproach, that he had no idea what kind of place Bob Jones University was or what kind far-right belief it stood for. There was the sense that anything he said at Bob Jones would have to indicate his eyes were open concerning its anti-Catholicism and its other bigotries and that, by being there, he approved of them."

Hence, the Judiciary Democrats were almost as zealous as the media in trying to ferret out some spoor, some documentary evidence of Ashcroft's deeds and statements at Bob Jones. When it was learned, late last week, that, in fact, a videotape did exist and that the school's spokesman, Jonathan Pait, had reviewed it (read: Bob Jones III himself had checked it out), Pait made a point of saying (a) that the school would not release the tape to anybody in the media; and (b) it would be released to the Judiciary Committee if Ashcroft requested it to.

This last indulgence was cover for the root fact that Judiciary would have the tape, either by subpoena or by Ashcroft's recognition that his nomination was doomed if he connived in the holding back of a document presumed vital.

The denial to the media was spite and sweet revenge, nothing else. As Pait confided later on (after Bob Jones had decided to let Larry King, who had been permitted to interview Jones at the time of last year's flap): "We wanted to punish the liberal national media for their unfairness and their determination to slander Bob Jones University."

Larry King was allowed to have the goods again, after two or three days of the most intense - and futile - courtship (or siege) by the rest of the national media. And the tape, when finally shown, seemed superficially to be fairly innocuous, not worth the fuss. Ashcroft, then a senator facing either a reelection race or a presidential bid, had been honored by the university along with U.S. Reps. Asa Hutchinson and Lindsey Graham, two of the managers in Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. The Missouri senator had been, as president Jones noted in his introduction of the tape on the King program, the first senator to call for Clinton's impeachment.

So it was no great stretch to see that the honor bestowed on these three tribunes of the Congress was, in effect, intended as a rebuke to the reigning Caesar.

Ashcroft, in his brief remarks, played on that theme.

He reminded the listening students and faculty of what he said was a war-cry of the American colonists: "We have no king but Jesus." He dilated upon the civil authority vis-ˆ-vis the "eternal authority," and he said that "when you have no king but Caesar, you release Barabbas." It was clearly an allusion to the recently aborted attempt by congressional Republicans to oust Clinton.

But it was also a rhetorical fallback onto the turf of government-bashers and religious interventionists, and that part might still give Ashcroft fits as Judiciary readies for its hearings with him, beginning on Tuesday. When president Jones had a chance to provide his gloss of the tape immediately after it was shown to the nation on the King show, he made haste to proclaim that Ashcroft's acceptance of an honorary degree should not be held against him. "In no way does that imply that he endorses the granting institution. . .," Jones said, by way of providing an absolution of Ashcroft against any presumed guilt by association. Was he surprised at the furor of the last several days? King asked. Jones replied: "Not considering the source. The raucous political left ... makes a lot of noise."

Jones said he thought Ashcroft's words on the tape would "comfort" rank-and-file Americans and help the senator in his confirmation fight. He conceded, however, that his own support and that of his university might have hurt Ashcroft somewhat. "Sometimes I don't like myself very well," he jested. Acknowledging that much of America incorrectly believed that Bob Jones University was racist, he attempted to absolve Ashcroft of the taint, contending that it was unlikely the honoree had known of the school's then existing ban on interracial dating among students.

Ashbrook was a "a fine godly gentle covictioned man," Jones insisted -one fully deserving of confirmation.

As for Jones himself and his institution, he had once again - as he did a year ago on the self-same Larry King show - showed that he possessed some degree of flexibility. Not only did he admit that Bob Jones University could be an albatross, he could make unexpected forays onto secular turf, as when he pronounced about an emblem that sits atop South Carolina's capitol: "The Confederate flag needs to come down; it's an unnecessary offense to good people."

It was instructive to remember last year's appearance, when Jones had chosen the moment of his emergence - and that of his institution's -- in the national spotlight on the Larry King Show to make an unexpected about-face, revoking in prime time the school's interracial dating ban.

This week Jones quoted a saying by Jesus: "Give to Caesar that which is Caesar's," and went on to say that John Ashcroft believed so, too. In a curious way, his very appearance on King's secular medium and his behavior on his two Warholian nights reinforced the maxim. In the year since his first appearance, change had conspicuously occurred at his school. A visitor to the campus last year noticed that the school's female students wore long, floor-length skirts, without exception. This year there were several coeds on campus conspicuously ambling about in skirts cut as high as the knee, showing a fair amount of leg.

Earlier, Pait had been asked about that and had said about the long skirts, which had been widely reported as being in obedience to a school mandate, "It was never anything but a style. I saw a picture during the year of Bill Clinton with Chelsea in front of the Taj Mahal. She was wearing a long skirt. She could have been a Bob Jones student!"

There was something odd about this coupling of the Clinton ambience with that of Bob Jones University - but something that was, in its own way, appropriate. For if there was anything that was demonstrated by these two Bob Jones moments, a year apart, it was that even the most isolated and different amongst us could be brought into a semblance of conformity with evolving national custom.

Between now and John Ashcroft's confrontation with the Senate Judiciary Committee, and perhaps even afterward, many will continue to focus on the presumed rigidity of Bob Jones University and its backers The real story, however, might be the very obverse of all that. The main thing that seems to have happened in both of these highly publicized eyeball-to-eyeball encounters of church and state is that it wasn't Caesar that ended up blinking.

In both cases it was the state, or the secular-minded, that ended up being rendered to.

Saturday, January 13, 2001

RENDERING TO CAESAR

RENDERING TO CAESAR

Posted By on Sat, Jan 13, 2001 at 4:00 AM

GREENVILLE, S.C.-- The good folks (for that is how they see themselves) at Bob Jones University are no doubt astounded to find themselves for the second time in a year -- nay, for the second time in a brand-new millennium -- to be a focus of national, even world attention. Inexorably, it must seem, this monastic tribe is brought out of its preferred backwater by the presence of some or another prominent politician.

In 2000, it was George W. Bush, touching base with the hard core of the Religious Right to win a primary over the insurgent John McCain. Now, in a way, it's president-elect Bush's doing again. He went and nominated another paragon of conservative Christianity, John Ashcroft, to be his attorney general, administerer of the laws and beacon of justice for an increasingly diverse nation. And once the politically correct media found out that Ashcroft had been to Bob Jones last year to receive an honorary degree and speak (actually, the word seeped out in Ashcroft's losing Senate campaign), he, too, was fair game. Why did he do it? What did he say to the faithful? Picky, picky!

That's how it must have seemed, in any case, as the administration of President Bob Jones III settled in for another siege - this one occasioned not by national remonstrations over the school's anti-Catholic persuasion nor by the oddities of its social practices but by the hunt for a possibly mythical tape. Unbelievably, given Ashcroft's prominence as a U.S. Senator and -- in May 199, when he made his remarks at BJU -- by his potential presidential candidacy, his visit was not publicly noted. Not by the local Greenville, South Carolina, media, not by the national media, and not even by BJU's own media (since commencement exercises, by their very nature, mark the end of a school year).

There was no particular evidence that Ashcroft - under fire as his confirmation hearings neared for his attitudes and actions concerning blacks, women, and civil liberties - had said or done anything inflammatory. It was more a case, as the general counsel for one prominent Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee put it, that "Ashcroft is trying to pretend that he's beyond reproach, that he had no idea what kind of place Bob Jones University was or what kind far-right belief it stood for. There was the sense that anything he said at Bob Jones would have to indicate his eyes were open concerning its anti-Catholicism and its other bigotries and that, by being there, he approved of them."

Hence, the Judiciary Democrats were almost as zealous as the media in trying to ferret out some spoor, some documentary evidence of Ashcroft's deeds and statements at Bob Jones. When it was learned, late last week, that, in fact, a videotape did exist and that the school's spokesman, Jonathan Pait, had reviewed it (read: Bob Jones III himself had checked it out), Pait made a point of saying (a) that the school would not release the tape to anybody in the media; and (b) it would be released to the Judiciary Committee if Ashcroft requested it to.

This last indulgence was cover for the root fact that Judiciary would have the tape, either by subpoena or by Ashcroft's recognition that his nomination was doomed if he connived in the holding back of a document presumed vital.

The denial to the media was spite and sweet revenge, nothing else. As Pait confided later on (after Bob Jones had decided to let Larry King, who had been permitted to interview Jones at the time of last year's flap): "We wanted to punish the liberal national media for their unfairness and their determination to slander Bob Jones University."

Larry King was allowed to have the goods again, after two or three days of the most intense - and futile - courtship (or siege) by the rest of the national media. And the tape, when finally shown, seemed superficially to be fairly innocuous, not worth the fuss. Ashcroft, then a senator facing either a reelection race or a presidential bid, had been honored by the university along with U.S. Reps. Asa Hutchinson and Lindsey Graham, two of the managers in Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. The Missouri senator had been, as president Jones noted in his introduction of the tape on the King program, the first senator to call for Clinton's impeachment.

So it was no great stretch to see that the honor bestowed on these three tribunes of the Congress was, in effect, intended as a rebuke to the reigning Caesar.

Ashcroft, in his brief remarks, played on that theme.

He reminded the listening students and faculty of what he said was a war-cry of the American colonists: "We have no king but Jesus." He dilated upon the civil authority vis-ˆ-vis the "eternal authority," and he said that "when you have no king but Caesar, you release Barabbas." It was clearly an allusion to the recently aborted attempt by congressional Republicans to oust Clinton.

But it was also a rhetorical fallback onto the turf of government-bashers and religious interventionists, and that part might still give Ashcroft fits as Judiciary readies for its hearings with him, beginning on Tuesday. When president Jones had a chance to provide his gloss of the tape immediately after it was shown to the nation on the King show, he made haste to proclaim that Ashcroft's acceptance of an honorary degree should not be held against him. "In no way does that imply that he endorses the granting institution. . .," Jones said, by way of providing an absolution of Ashcroft against any presumed guilt by association. Was he surprised at the furor of the last several days? King asked. Jones replied: "Not considering the source. The raucous political left ... makes a lot of noise."

Jones said he thought Ashcroft's words on the tape would "comfort" rank-and-file Americans and help the senator in his confirmation fight. He conceded, however, that his own support and that of his university might have hurt Ashcroft somewhat. "Sometimes I don't like myself very well," he jested. Acknowledging that much of America incorrectly believed that Bob Jones University was racist, he attempted to absolve Ashcroft of the taint, contending that it was unlikely the honoree had known of the school's then existing ban on interracial dating among students.

Ashbrook was a "a fine godly gentle covictioned man," Jones insisted -one fully deserving of confirmation.

As for Jones himself and his institution, he had once again - as he did a year ago on the self-same Larry King show - showed that he possessed some degree of flexibility. Not only did he admit that Bob Jones University could be an albatross, he could make unexpected forays onto secular turf, as when he pronounced about an emblem that sits atop South Carolina's capitol: "The Confederate flag needs to come down; it's an unnecessary offense to good people."

It was instructive to remember last year's appearance, when Jones had chosen the moment of his emergence - and that of his institution's -- in the national spotlight on the Larry King Show to make an unexpected about-face, revoking in prime time the school's interracial dating ban.

This week Jones quoted a saying by Jesus: "Give to Caesar that which is Caesar's," and went on to say that John Ashcroft believed so, too. In a curious way, his very appearance on King's secular medium and his behavior on his two Warholian nights reinforced the maxim. In the year since his first appearance, change had conspicuously occurred at his school. A visitor to the campus last year noticed that the school's female students wore long, floor-length skirts, without exception. This year there were several coeds on campus conspicuously ambling about in skirts cut as high as the knee, showing a fair amount of leg.

Earlier, Pait had been asked about that and had said about the long skirts, which had been widely reported as being in obedience to a school mandate, "It was never anything but a style. I saw a picture during the year of Bill Clinton with Chelsea in front of the Taj Mahal. She was wearing a long skirt. She could have been a Bob Jones student!"

There was something odd about this coupling of the Clinton ambience with that of Bob Jones University - but something that was, in its own way, appropriate. For if there was anything that was demonstrated by these two Bob Jones moments, a year apart, it was that even the most isolated and different amongst us could be brought into a semblance of conformity with evolving national custom.

Between now and John Ashcroft's confrontation with the Senate Judiciary Committee, and perhaps even afterward, many will continue to focus on the presumed rigidity of Bob Jones University and its backers The real story, however, might be the very obverse of all that. The main thing that seems to have happened in both of these highly publicized eyeball-to-eyeball encounters of church and state is that it wasn't Caesar that ended up blinking.

In both cases it was the state, or the secular-minded, that ended up being rendered to.

Thursday, January 11, 2001

WHAT'S NEXT FOR GORE (PART TWO)

'Up Against It'

Posted By on Thu, Jan 11, 2001 at 4:00 AM

In an existential sense (to evoke a term you don't see much anymore but still applies), Al Gore is up against it. After the public injury of losing an extended, public double-overtime contest for the presidency of the United States of America last month, his more sub-rosa quest for the presidency of Harvard, ended in something of an insult.

Two weeks ago Robert G. Stone Jr., a senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation search committee publicly stated of Gore's semi-declared candidacy, "He doesn't have the academic and intellectual standing."

And the Harvard Crimson rubbed it in by reporting last week that the search committee had "whittled" the list of contenders down, "discarding" some 450 nominees, "including Vice President Al Gore '69."

That made it all the more likely that Gore would have to follow through on his concession-speech pledge that he'd be coming home to Tennessee "to mend some fences.

If there ever was a homestead that could stand some mending, fences and all, it is the Tennessee Democratic Party, which hasn't won a major statewide race in more than a decade now and hasn't even fielded a serious statewide candidate since 1994 - a year which saw the governorship and both the state's U.S. Senate seats pass into Republican hands.

Gore, who in November lost home-state Tennessee's 11 electoral votes (enough to have won him the presidency, with or without Florida) was, ironically, the state party's last big winner - having romped to a reelection victory in 1990 over a no-name opponent.

But that was then; this is now, a scant two months since Gore finished 80,000 votes behind GOP rival George W. Bush in Tennessee, in the process losing the [5th] Congressional district he once represented and salvaging his home county of Smith only by the narrowest of margins.

The state's still-popular former two-term Democratic governor, Ned Ray McWherter, stumped relentlessly for Gore during the presidential campaign's home stretch but kept running into versions of the same chorus. As he told the Associated Press two weeks ago, "They told me, `Ned, we're glad to see you. You're always welcome here. You're our friend and always will be. But we haven't seen or heard from Al Gore since 1992.' "

Uncooked Seeds

It is now axiomatic that in his vice-presidential years the once cautiously conservative Gore evolved positions on issues like abortion rights, limited gun control, and rights for gays - to mention only a few - that were way out in advance of most Tennesseans. Add to that his well-earned reputation for personal stiffness and, as McWherter noted, his recent inattentiveness to a home-state constituency that he once, as a congressman and as a Senator, had favored with abundant "town meetings."

Even the most casual observer of the late presidential campaign, and especially of the five-week Florida runoff, would be entitled to conclude that Gore's quest for the presidency went far beyond political dedication. Psychic necessity, or at least an urge to self-definition, seemed clearly to influence Gore's candidacy as much as any ideological matter had.

Just as Gore forbade his eminent father, the former congressman and senator and presidential aspirant, from intervening in his maiden congressional race in 1976, so did the campaigning Gore of 2000 keep Bill Clinton, whom he had served so faithfully as vice president, at an arm's - nay, a continent's - length.

Gore and his inner circle evidently convinced themselves that the various Clinton scandals - especially l'affaire Lewinsky of 1998 - were a detriment to his own presidential candidacy. And, indeed, many in the retiring vice president's circle continue to believe that a Clinton hex was the major factor in creating a tight race and, ultimately, George W. Bush's highly tarnished - even suspect - victory.

That Gore's own failures - especially in the three debates with Bush - contributed significantly to the outcome is a fact that, at some level of consciousness, has to motivate this able and driven public figure, who, after all, had his moments in connecting with an audience (the convention address of 2000 being a clear example, his concession speech being another).

It is too pat to conclude that Al Gore the public figure still has a need to prove himself at the polls. But one doesn't even need a Freudian primer to appreciate the uncooked seeds in a man who led a presidential race by half a million votes and probably will be demonstrated by various unofficial recounts to have "won" the key state of Florida as well.

An Opportunity

There are many good reasons for Gore not to hazard a gubernatorial race in 2002 in Tennessee - not the least of which is the state's currently intractable fiscal crisis. And he is surely aware of the fate that befell Richard Nixon, another first-try loser for the presidency, in his unsuccessful 1962 race for governor.

Y

et Gore has the kind of analytical mind that lends itself to problem-solving (sometimes on a cosmic scale), and he is prideful enough to want to avenge this year's loss in his own back yard. Moreover, he knows that other potential Democratic presidential candidates are out there (does the name "Hillary" ring a bell?) and that he may have alienated many in the party by the simple fact of his defeat last year.

How better to begin his redemption than by winning a race in Tennessee in 2002 - especially when there is a chance Gore would be opposed by another formidable personality, Senator Fred Thompson, and that the two of them would create the kind of energizing spectacle that the media looked for - and failed to get - in the aborted Guiliani-Clinton race of 2000?

And, perhaps, whoever is governor of Tennessee after 2002 will have a perfect opportunity to demonstrate economic ingenuity to a nation which may not be so giddily prosperous in 2004 as it was in 2000. (The signs of such a come-uppance are already being trumpeted, ironically enough, by the incoming president and vice-president.)

And what do we make of the fact that Thompson and Gore easily headed the list in last week's poll by the Mason-Dixon organization of Tennesseans' preferred choices for governor?

And who is to say that Nixon's loss in California in 1962 - however abject it seemed at the time - wasn't a necessary precursor to his ultimate presidential victory in 1968?

All of which is to say that, however remote a prospect it may seem just now, the state - and the nation - may have another Al Gore candidacy to kick around. Sooner than most think.

- JACKSON BAKER

AND IF NOT GOVERNOR. . .

Two more job prospects for Al Gore, both in Nashville.

First, how about editor of The Tennessean? Gore worked there as a reporter in the early Seventies under former editor and old friend John Seigenthaler, who is still an influential Nashvillian although no longer in the daily newspaper business. And he also knows current editor Frank Sutherland, who would surely be persuaded to move aside for his out-of-work colleague.

Gore could preside over editorial meetings, freshen his ties to his home state, and restore some of The Tennessean's fading prestige and liberal edge lost under the auspices of Gannett ownership. Then he could quickly move up the ladder to succeed Al Neuharth at USA Today or at Gannett's Freedom Forum, which will be moving into its new headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.

A related possibility is an emeritus position with the First Amendment Center, a Gannett creation at Vanderbilt which sponsors symposiums and such. Gore would be a natural for the Center's political bent and its lofty rhetoric. He could invite his old friends down to Nashville while they cool their heels until 2004.

Either job would return Gore to his home state and to Nashville, where he moved his campaign headquarters last summer. Neither post is exactly on the order of president of Harvard, but then Gore is not exactly Daniel Moynihan either, having dropped out of law school and divinity school at Vanderbilt.

Nashville has already rehabilitated an unpopular pro football team into a beloved Super Bowl contender. It could do the same for Al Gore.

- JOHN BRANSTON

Monday, January 8, 2001

WHAT'S NEXT FOR GORE? (Part One)

He may be looking at a top job close to home.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 8, 2001 at 4:00 AM

It is way premature to be reckoning on it, but there is some circumstantial evidence indicating that outgoing Vice President Al Gore, who has lost not one but two presidential bids in the last month (of the United States and of Harvard University, his Alma Mater), could be thinking of running for yet another executive position - that of governor of Tennessee.

Various Gore intimates, Democratic functionaries, and commentators have talked up the prospect (the Washington Post's David Broder made it the subject of some out-loud musing on NBC's Meet the Press week before last).

The chief indication that something may be afoot is that one of Gore's main men is letting himself be talked up for chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. This would be Johnny Hayes, ex- of Gallatin, who has served Gore's electoral ambitions for years, most recently as a top presidential-campaign fundraiser.

Hayes, a stocky, good-natured former insurance man, is a T.C.B. type who was with Gore in his first congressional campaign in 1976 and has been with him ever since, taking time out to serve as TVA board member before going full-time with the Gore presidential campaign in early 1999.

"I don't know if Al himself is urging Johnny, but I don't have any doubt that some of his people are," opines Bill Owen of Knoxville, a member of the Democrats' state executive committee and a national committeeman as well.

Though he makes an exception for the well-liked Hayes, who has always kept fairly close liaison with Democrats in Tennessee, Owens is one of several state party people who were seriously underwhelmed by Gore's national campaign entourage.

Another is executive committee member David Upton of Memphis, who with Owens attempted to pass a committee resolution last year forcing the Tennessee Democratic Victory 2000 committee (a.k.a. the "Coordinated Campaign Committee") to clear its state expenditures (and confer on strategy) with the state party.

"They ran a terrible campaign in Tennessee," Upton says of the Gore campaign surrogates. "They let the presidential candidate down, and they let down all the local candidates and organizations they were supposed to be 'coordinating' tactics with."

While as complimentary toward Hayes as Owens, Upton isn't prepared to concede that Hayes is the inevitable chairman, pointing out that other strong contenders are still out there - notably Lebanon trial lawyer Bill Farmer, who is declared, and Memphis attorney John Farris, who is still thinking about it. Two other possible candidates are Middle Tennessee State professor Jeff Clark, who just lost a U.S. Senate race, and legislative employee David Bone.

Owens won't buy into that. "I don't want to call him [Hayes] the 'gorilla,' but he's the 800-pounder in the race. If he wants it, he probably gets it."

And if Al Gore wants him to want it, Hayes will dutifully develop the desire. He is a loyalist like Knoxville businessman Doug Horne, the virtual political unknown whom Gore backed for the chairmanship in 1998 and who will step down, yielding to a successor at a state committee meeting later this month.

Horne intends to run for governor - unless, as he has put it, a "serious contender" announces by the end of May. Speculation as to who that might be has so far focused on two congressmen, Bob Clement of Nashville and John Tanner of Union City.

After December 12th, the night of Gore's concession speech, speculation began to move in another direction.

(More to come.)
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