Thursday, October 25, 2001



Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Unaccountably there arose something of a controversy a while back concerning the intentions of former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander towards the seat now occupied by once and future U.S.. Senator Fred Thompson. All that seems so long ago now, but it was all the rage in statewide political and media circles just before September 11th., when Usama bin Laden or some individual or group with the same degree of evil intensity enacted the horrific scenario that prompted a previously reluctant Thompson to rise to a sense of mission and to announce for reelection, after all -- re-enlisting, in effect, in the federal ranks. No one much cares or pays attention now to Lamar Alexander, who has reverted to the condition of distinguished obscurity which characterized him before his late-summer bloom as a Senate hopeful. For those with an interest, however, the facts are these, as certified anew by Senator Bill Frist and other sources close to the National Republican Senatorial Committee which Frist now heads: The drama in which Alexander was to do his late cameo appearace occupied the better part of a year Ð since 9th District U.s. Rep. Ed Bryant made what for him was a fateful decision to back off a gubernatorial bid, yielding his place in that line to his colleague from Tennessee’s 4th district, Van Hilleary. Up until then, both Hilleary and Bryant had bee eying the Senate seat, in case Thompson chose to run for governor (that was the presumed issue back then) or the governorship in case he didn’t. Bryant appears to have gambled that Ole Fred, a sometime actor, would take the part which his GOP lodge brothers had picked out for him, that of providing another, rejuvenated Republican governorship in the post-Sundquist era. Nor for the first nor the last time, though, Thompson declined to be typecast and renounced a gubernatorial bid Ð which meant that Hilleary had his race to run and the luckless Bryant didn’t. Then came Thompson’s prolonged bout of indecision regarding a reelection race for the Senate. Bryant’s hopes flared up again, and he launched a shadow campaign of sortw, which was well advanced when the Alexander gambit materialized, seemingly out of nowhere, in August. It began with an unattributed one-sentence item in the Wall Street Journal suggested that Alexander was floating an interest in the Senate race. In reality, it was being floated for him Ð by Frist and/or delegated operatives in the NRSC. The Senator more or less confirmed all this in Washington last week. “We’re in a tight battle for control of the Senate Ð right now, as everybody knows, it’s a single-seat majority for the Democrats Ð and every seat counts,” he said. Did he contact Alexander about a race? Frist nodded. “Yes, it was my responsibility to make sure that we had a candidate with enough means and name-recognition to make a serious, competitive race.” Was it doubly important to him that the Republicans hold on to the Tennesse seat? “Oh, yeah,” he said expansively. “No doubt about it.” And another source, speaking on assurances of anonymity, put it simply: “If Fred had not run again, Lamar was in.” No doubt about it. The reason: neither Bryant’s poll figures nor his fund-raising had been such as to generate enough confidence at the NRSC to go for broke with him. (Parenthesis: this was very probably a premature judgment on Bryant, who has a demonstrated ability to wear well with voters who’ve gotten to know him.) Alexander, by contrast, was a known quantity as well as a prove statewide name. Given the stakes, in a Senate destined to be shaded one way or the other by the narrowest of margins, he looked good to the NRSC and to its chief. It’s that simple. And, again, whatever the surface noises of the occasion, the reality was that Alexander was presumed by those mostly closely related to the national Republican senate effort to be locked in. Before September 11th stoked Senator Thompson’s sense of duty and changed everything.

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