Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why Ron Ramsey Thinks Zach Wamp is Dead Wrong

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 at 5:27 PM

Appearing separately, Republicns Ron Ramsey and Bill Gibbons (who lives here) had their say in Shelby County Tuesday, thereby completing a two-day availbility locally of gubernatorial candidates. (Passing through on Monday had been Republicans Bill Haslam, the mayor of Knoxville, and 3rd District congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga, as well as Democrat Kim McMillan of Clarksville, the former state House majority leader. Question: So when is Mike McWherter, the other surviving Democrat, coming through again?)

The Flyer had a chance to speak with both Ramsey and Gibbons. This is the first of two reports on those conversations.


Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey in Memphis Tuesday
  • JB
  • Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey in Memphis Tuesday
Ramsey, Speaker of the state Senate and, ipso facto, lieutenant governor, took time out for an afternoon conversation in the East Memphis office of a supporter during a round of a activities that would culminate with an evening address to a group of Republicans in Collierville.

Before we got started, Ramsey had a déjà vu moment that seemed quasi-spiritual. Noticing the intense way a circular fluorescent ceiling fixture focused light on his head, he said, “You know, this reminds me of that light Wilder had in his office. I noticed it the day I moved in.”

That, of course, was a reference to Ramsey’s surprise victory over the late Democrat John Wilder in the Senate election for Speaker in January 2007.

The first order of business for Ramsey was to debunk a statement rival Wamp had made in Germantown the day before — namely, that the Senate speaker could not complete with him for conservative supporters because Ramsey had “only” a lieutenant governor’s following, which was “not the base of a person who can win our party’s nomination for governor.” Wamp had gone to say, “He [Ramsey] may be the only one who doesn’t realize that so far. But a lot of other people know it, they talk about it everywhere we go."

Ramsey was calmly dismissive. “He’s just flat-out wrong,” he said about Wamp’s statements. .” I do think the conservative base is coming with me.” The Second-Amendment bloc because Ramsey had shepherded pro-gun legislation through the Senate. The Right to Life network “because I defunded Planned Parenthood” among other instances of support for the anti-abortion movement

As for the foes of a state income tax: “I bled on the floor on the issue of the income tax. For a period of about four years I fought that in the legislature, and I think in 2002 we drove a stake in the heart of the income tax forever in Tennessee.”

And then there was the Tea Party movement.

“There’s no way that Zach Wamp can win those voters. He can’t say, ‘I’m from Washington, D.C., and I’m here to help.’ He voted for the $700 billion-dollar ban bail-0out. He voted for the Bridge to Nowhere. He voted for cash-for-clunkers, not once but twice, and I think in the end when his record comes out on spending in Washington, D.C., he won’t win over the Tea Party movement. So I adamantly disagree with him. I think the conservative movement’s on my side.”

As far as campaign finances went “I’ve got a half million dollars more than Zach Wamp.” By the time of the candidates’ January financial disclosure, “I’d raised a bout $2.8 million. He was about $2.7, but he’s spending it a lot faster than I am. And you have to remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. On the disclosure I had about $2.3 million in the bank; he had about $1.8 million.”

Because of restrictions that went into effect in January and will lift only in mid-May, Ramsey as a sitting legislator cannot raise money for the time being. That gave Wamp a chance to catch up in the meantime. “But he’s spending a lot. And if he doesn’t catch up that’s a real problem for him.” Meanwhile, promised Ramsey, “I’ll have the floodgates ready to open on May 15. I can hit the ground running at that time.”

Ramsey concedes, though, that he would have to remain Number Two in fundraising to GOP rival Bill Haslam, the Knoxville mayor who’s “raised more money than all the rest of us put together” — a total of $5 million on the mayor’s January disclosure.

.”But there’s only so much you can spend. There are about 6.2 million people in the state of Tennessee. Only about 10 percent of those will vote in the Republican primary. That’s your target audience."

And Ramsey didn’t see Haslam hitting that target. “He joined {New York] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg’s ‘Mayors Against Guns.] He raised property taxes his first year n office. As of now, Bill has spent over $2 million.” Ramsey cited a poll conducted at Middle Tennessee State University, concluded after a recent million-dollar blanketing on statewide television by Haslam.

“MTSU did a poll after the commercials, and 74 percent of people couldn’t name one gubernatorial candidate. It was way too early for a media blitz. And, anyhow, name ID and connecting with Republican voters are two different things.”

Concerning his presence in Shelby County, and that of others, Ramsey cited a series of facts: that “the largest block of Republican primary voters resides in Shelby County;” that “one out of six people in Tennessee live in Shelby County;” that Republican destinies could rise and fall according to the local vote, in “the non-Memphis part of Shelby County.”

The county was vital to Democrats, too, Ramsey, who hails from blountville in far East Tennesse, said, noting that “the largest Democratic vote by far comes out of Shelby County.” He seemed to regard the recent pullout from the governor’s race of Memphian Jim Kyle, the Democrats’ state Senate leader, as a puzzle.

“I think Jim Kyle had an excellent chance at winning the primary. He had a base in Shelby County and an ability to raise an adequate amount of money elsewhere. And there’s going to be a huge turnout in Shelby County because of the congressional race here”

But finally Ramsey found Kyle’s decision reassuring. “He talked about encountering ‘hostility.’ That indicates that it’s not a good time to be running as a Democrat. And why put all that work in and not win the general?”

NEXT: Why Bill Gibbons Still Thinks He Can Win

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