That he couldn’t catch a break. But Catch-22 caught him. And wouldn’t let go.
It got to this point: Zach Wamp, the Chattanooga congressman who was locked into a real scratching match with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey for dibs on challenging Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, was lambasting both those worthies right and left (mainly from the right, of course). But he had nothing but nice things to say about “General Gibbons.”
That’s what the others were doing, too. Unloosing shots at their other GOP rivals but sugarcoating everything they said about the man from Memphis.
That may have been the last signal Gibbons needed. But other prompters were the facts that time for the next financial disclosure period, on March 31, is drawing nigh, as is the withdrawal deadline for gubernatorial candidates, just over a week later, on April 8.
As recently as a week ago, when he addressed a meeting of Young Republicans here in Memphis, Gibbons was defiant about his chances. He likened himself to Winfield Dunn, the Memphis dentist who overcame anonymity and long odds to wrest the Republican nomination for governor from several better known GOP contenders, then wreaked an upset win over Democrat John Hooker to become governor.
Dunn, too, had some money problems to start with, but the lineup against him — Hubert Patty, Bill Jenkins, and Maxey Jarman — weren’t as far ahead of him in fundraising as Haslam, Wamp, and Ramsey are over Gibbons. Nor were their names quite as large in the political pantheon of the time.
So, when word came on Thursday that Gibbons had scheduled two major press conferences on Friday — one for Nashville in the morning, another for Memphis in the afternoon — everyone naturally assumed that the mild-mannered lawman knew when to fold up and was planning to. The time and manner of both scheduled events smacked of “I want to thank my friends who supported me…”
Several of the attendees at Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell’s Racquet Club fundraiser on Thursday night reported having “call-me-back” messages from Gibbons on their voice mails. Most of them had been his donors.
Of course, it’s always possible that Gibbons, who needed a miracle, came upon one — a major endorsement, a run of unsuspected fundraising fortune, a mind-blowing new policy initiative… A miracle, in short, because that’s what he needed. And something like that, a combination of it all, especially, would invalidate all of the foregoing.
But it ain’t likely.
After that YR meeting in Memphis last week, Gibbons was asked what he would say if someone suggested to him he should step aside and get out of the governor’s race.
“It would be a short conversation,” a proud and seemingly resolute man answered.
But at this point Bill Gibbons seems poised to have two somewhat lengthy conversations about the matter on Friday.