Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Busy Bodies

A full house of Senate candidates in New York augurs for a crowded 2006 field.

Posted By on Tue, Sep 7, 2004 at 4:00 AM

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were not the only Republicans running for office in New York this week. Several more were on hand in the Tennessee contingent at the party's national convention, the great majority of them thinking long and hard about running for the U.S. Senate in 2006.

In no particular order, they were:

Former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, who was one of the first to declare for the office that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist now holds. Frist has indicated he will vacate his Senate seat in order to prepare a presidential run in 2008.

Current 7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who has not yet tipped her hand but would be regarded as a formidable competitor if she made the run.

Current 3rd District congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga, who may have been in and out of Memphis were you read this. Wamp was also scheduled to hit Nashville and other points in a statewide tour designed to underscore his seriousness.

Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, who ran for the seat in 1994 and later served as former Governor Don Sundquist's first finance director.

Nashville state representative Beth Harwell, who doubles as state Republican chairman.

Former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, now of Nashville, who will succeed Memphis lawyer John Ryder as the GOP's national committeeman from Tennessee after the convention.

Not all are likely to run at the same time, of course. As fellow Chattanoogans, for example, Wamp and Corker would be direct rivals. "We share the same constituency and the same financial base," Wamp said frankly this week. "But I'm going after it very seriously right now, and I'm not going to be turned away by thoughts of Bob Corker or anybody else."

The conventional wisdom is that if Corker, a self-made multimillionaire who has deeper pockets, gets in, Wamp would have no choice but to get out. Corker is less definite than Wamp about running, but people who know him well say to count him in and that that was the meaning of his recent decision not to run for reelection as mayor.

Bryant has an equivalent concern with Blackburn. "That would be hard," he admits, if both he and she were forced to compete for votes in the 7th District. But he is confident that the statewide name recognition he earned in his 2002 Senate primary contest with Lamar Alexander would stand him in good stead against Blackburn or any other competition.

Meanwhile, the other major factor in the Senate equation, Frist himself, made it plain in a chat with Tennessee reporters that he does in fact intend to make the seat available. "Nothing has changed," he said when asked about the declaration he made when first elected in 1994 that he would serve two terms and two only.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Frist also expressed pride, as chairman of the RNC platform ,committee this year, in having overseen what he described as an "Open Road" platform. "Ours is a party with many different views on abortion, on taxes, on Iraq, and every other subject. Nobody has to believe any one thing."

The senator dismissed the prospect, raised in a recent syndicated column by Robert Novak, that he had suffered some erosion of support among rank-and-file Republicans. And he said that relations with his predecessor as majority leader, Mississippi senator Trent Lott, were "good." Said Frist: "We're close personal friends." The Tennessee senator was among the first influential Republicans to conclude that Lott's usefulness as leader might be ended because of an impolitic statement in late 2002 seeming to praise the late SenatorStrom Thurmond's segregationist views.

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