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Transparency and Elections

Wamp Launches Campaign — And More Barbs at Haslam

The Volunteer State’s 3rd Congressional District representative says he’s not criticizing the Knoxville mayor’s family-business success. Wamp just wants “full disclosure” of Haslam’s financial ties to Pilot Corp. For Haslam, Tennessee’s 2010 GOP primary feels thus far like he’s “running against a bunch of California liberals attacking capitalism.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp critiqued the much-discussed early television ad by primary opponent Bill Haslam today as a “Pilot Oil ad,” adding that his own ads will show a candidate running for governor.

“I’m grateful, frankly, that there’s a lot of money being wasted right now, because we’re going to wait and spend our money in a very efficient, effective way,” Wamp said.

Wamp’s reaction to the Haslam ad came in Murfreesboro Tuesday following a morning event at the State Capitol Building, where Wamp formally announced his campaign for governor.

“I believe deep in my bones that we have a great state, the greatest of all states, but I know in my heart we can do better,” the congressman told a crowd while standing with his family in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the State Capitol Building.

The room was filled with supporters and state legislators. House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton — though not on board as a supporter — also poked his head in at the announcement.

Wamp said this is no time for a status quo governor and called for smaller government.

“Government cannot solve all of our problems,” he said. “Ladies, and gentlemen, we’re going to have to shrink the footprint of state government and get through this recession and grow our economy.”

While his Capitol appearance served as his formal campaign announcement, Wamp has been running for governor actively for months.

Wamp offered his take on the Haslam advertising campaign while stopping for lunch today at the City Cafe in Murfreesboro, which just happened to coincide with an appearance by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kim McMillan.

Wamp arrived first, met with many of the diners and had just sat down with his family when McMillan entered for her own interaction with the lunchtime crowd.

McMillan had spoken at Middle Tennessee State University. Wamp’s entourage had made its way into town after being at Capitol Hill in Nashville.

Two storylines have dominated the Republican primary race in recent days.

One is the effort by Wamp and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons to hold Haslam accountable for refusing to disclose his personal income from Pilot Corp., the Haslam family business known for the Pilot Travel Centers along highway roadsides. Over the last week, the two have peppered the Knoxville mayor with public comments calling for him to release his private records.

“Mayor Haslam’s running in a Republican primary,” said David Smith, Haslam’s campaign spokesman. “But it sounds like he’s running against a bunch of California liberals attacking capitalism.”

The other hot topic is Haslam’s early statewide campaign television ad buy. The move is drawing attention not only for its early timing but for the $5.7 million in campaign contributions Haslam has collected– giving him a decided financial advantage over his opposition.

“This is a big week in that we’re kicking it into the home stretch,” Wamp said. “But this is also a momentum week because while one candidate is spending a lot of money branding himself on television, I am out clearly laying out where our state needs to go to become an even better state. And I think that’s a contrast.”

Since he brought up what was clearly a reference to Haslam, Wamp was asked to critique the debut ad that hit televisions across the state Friday.

“I don’t want to talk much about what the other campaigns are doing with their money,” he said, then added, “To me it looks like a Pilot Oil ad. My ads are going to show me running for governor with a plan and an agenda to make Tennessee a better place, not the family business. So they can brand him however they want to, and they can spend as much money as they want to, but the people of Tennessee want a leader with vision and a plan to make Tennessee an ever better state.

“Frankly, I have the experience of having done that,” he continued. “I’ve been able to do that in one part of the state. Now I want to do it in the whole state, and the people are with us.”

The Haslam ad depicts the Knoxville mayor as having worked hard to build up the Pilot business, showing images of trucks at truck stops while a voiceover reflects on Haslam’s work as mayor. The ad also gives a glimpse of Haslam knocking on doors working his campaign and walking with others toting big red umbrellas.

In the restaurant in Murfreesboro, Wamp made his way over to greet McMillan, one of three Democratic candidates for governor. The smiling McMillan said to him what sounded like, “Great minds think alike” about their chance meeting.

McMillan’s campaign staff said the location was a coincidence, but they acknowledged they learned about a day or so ago Wamp was scheduled to be there, too.

Wamp, the 3rd District U.S. congressman from Chattanooga, is on what his campaign bills as a “statewide announcement tour.” He will be in the TriCities on Wednesday.

Wamp said he was encouraged by the crowd of people who had attended his event at the Capitol.

“Frankly, the desire for new leadership is what’s causing this,” he said. “In the Capitol itself, to have that kind of show of support, to have many of our legislators there, leaders from the community there, I was greatly encouraged.”

It was cramped quarters from the start in the Murfreesboro cafe where the soup, chili and sandwiches were moving quickly. The entrance of McMillan to go with the Wamp crowd made for even closer brushes between patrons and servers.

There, McMillan talked about the kinds of reactions she gets from such meetings with the public.

“A lot of them say, ‘Good luck,’ ‘Go for it,’ ‘We’re for you,’ which I like,” McMillan said. “But a lot of it is, ‘Here’s what I think.”

“I just heard two good ideas when I got here. One was someone talking about regionalism, and someone else promoted the idea of lifelong educational opportunities, thinking about making sure people always have that re-training and education. Good ideas.”

Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report.

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