Gov. Phil Bredesen endorsed Democrat Mike McWherter for governor Wednesday, and both Bredesen and McWherter put the race into historical perspective.
There was little, if any, mention of the Republicans running, which would be an easy political shot since McWherter is the last Democrat standing and sure to win the nomination in the Aug. 5 primary.
But both the governor and the candidate, appearing at Swett’s restaurant in Nashville, described the timing of events that tell the story of where the state is at the moment and what might well define the campaign, where three Republicans are contending and a slew of independents will be on the ballot Nov. 2.
Bredesen made special mention of McWherter’s father — former Gov. Ned McWherter, who attended the announcement — and noted that recent successes like the state’s victory in the federal Race to the Top contest have roots in the data-collecting system for schools the elder McWherter’s administration put in place.
Mike McWherter noted that the last time Tennessee swore in a new governor, the state was also in a fiscal crisis. McWherter complimented Bredesen on his handling of the state’s budget, especially on drawing the state back from fiscal calamity regarding TennCare, which was sending Tennessee over a cliff when Bredesen took control.
Now, the next governor will inherit an economy still recovering from deep recession and a state in desperate need of jobs.
“These next few years are going to be tough,” Bredesen said. “We are still working our way out of the recession, and recovery does not appear to be happening as quickly as most of us would like.
“We need somebody who knows how to create jobs, who can build on our successes, and I can tell you there is somebody in this room who meets those requirements. That’s why today I am endorsing Mike McWherter.”
Bredesen referred to McWherter’s “strong business background,” which is primarily McWherter’s successful beer distributorship, and he said McWherter has the sort of experience to understand the job of governor.
“When he first started talking about the possibilities of doing this, we talked about the economy and what needs to be done to get some of the jobs back that this recession has taken away from all of us,” Bredesen said. “And it was interesting when I talked to him. He understands. He gets it.”
Bredesen said McWherter sees the role small businesses play and how, while publicity comes with big job announcements, small businesses are important to the economy.
Bredesen noted that McWherter has been supportive of the governor’s attempts at improving education and that he is confident McWherter will follow through. Bredesen seemed particularly pleased with McWherter’s support of the governor’s pre-K initiative.
McWherter spoke of his appreciation for how Bredesen handled the state’s financial problems when he took office in 2003.
“It was your steady leadership and your willingness to make hard decisions and your commitment to fiscal responsibility that we weathered that crisis,” McWherter said. “That took leadership, and it took doing the right thing.”
McWherter said he had had the unique opportunity to be able to observe two very successful governors.
“And I can tell you I learned from my father the most important job of being governor is to look after the people’s interest,” McWherter said. “Governor Bredesen, I have learned from you truly that creativity and drive have really helped move this state forward and grow our economy.”
Three Republicans — U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — are in a spirited campaign for their party’s nomination.
The Tennessee Republican Party issued a release Tuesday from state Chairman Chris Devaney, stating, “Mike McWherter needs all the help he can get, but even Governor Bredesen’s endorsement isn’t likely to do much for a candidate who, by recent polling, is shown to be trailing Republican candidates by a double digit margin.”
One final sign of the perspective shared at the Democrats’ event was the presence of a box of vanilla wafers. Ned McWherter was known for his remarks when he took office that all he needed was a cup of coffee and three vanilla wafers and he would be ready to go to work.
Mike McWherter, in an effort to emphasize his attention to jobs, put in some duty cleaning tables at Swett’s after the announcement, a practice that has become common in his campaign.
Andrea Zelinski shot video for this story.