Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam easily defeated his two closest rivals in the August 5th Republican primary for governor of Tennessee.
Haslam received about 52% of the vote to 27% for Wamp and about 16% for Ramsey. Those numbers represent a significant victory for a moderate Republican selected by the people who are presumed to be the state’s most conservative voters. In other words, it wasn’t even close.
Why did the election go the way it did? Haslam, a very wealthy man, got in the race early and spent a lot of his own money. He is a businessman and mayor of one of the state’s four largest cities, just as Gov. Bredesen was when he won the election eight years ago. Haslam is handsome and charismatic and says nothing better than any of the others, but I don’t think any of those things represent the reason the election went the way it did.
The real reason is that Tennessee and Tennesseans are just not ready for the revolution that we read so much about. Voters are supposed to be angry at government – so angry that they want to send a message that they will not take it anymore. Well, Tennesseans sent a message on August 5th, and that message was “give us more of the same.”
Tennesseans obviously think that Governor Bredesen has done a good job during his eight years in office. They remember the economic shambles left by his predecessor, Don Sundquist, and they would like just to avoid a repeat of that.
Wamp and Ramsey campaigned by accusing Haslam of not being conservative enough, and it obviously didn’t work. Haslam was able to convince voters that his business experience combined with his experience running Knoxville give him the necessary credentials to lead the state economically.
That seems to be what people are concerned about now: economics. It’s a mistake to use labels such as liberal, conservative, left and right because voters are wise to the fact that most of the time the labels are meaningless. “Do I have a job, can I find a job, can I keep my house and car, and can I feed my family without public assistance?” are the kinds of questions people want answers for today.
If you are planning on being a candidate for executive office, you had better be prepared to answer those questions. Not many people take the time to discuss economic theory with voters. Either candidates don’t understand it, or they assume voters don’t understand it and don’t care to.
People do appreciate a candidate who is willing to tell them why everything is so fouled up and what he or she plans to do about it if elected. None of the candidates did that as far as I was able to determine, but voters assumed that Haslam has the formula for prosperity because he is a successful businessman. The campaign attack against him that he is an “oil billionaire” fell on deaf ears.
Wamp has the disadvantage of a 15-year voting record in Congress, and hopefully voters could see that his words do not match his record, which supported the Republican Congressional leadership more that 94% of the time. That would seem to make him the establishment candidate, but he failed to understand that fact. He at least didn’t campaign around it.
Ramsey’s brand of conservatism didn’t work either, and that surprises me, but only a little. To my knowledge, he said very little about the economy or why his political thought is the best choice economically.
In the end, the advice given to Bill Clinton is still correct. It’s the economy, stupid.
- Darrell Castle