Presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter doesn’t know for sure which Republican he’ll face in November, so just for good measure he fired criticism at all three Friday night.
However, he paid special attention to Bill Haslam, the target of McWherter’s first and last jabs during a speech at the state Democratic Party Jackson Day gathering at Belmont University in Nashville.
“We need more than a candidate with a lot of cash but no substance,” McWherter said, which was an obvious reference to wealthy Knoxville mayor Haslam, whose Republican foes have used the same approach.
McWherter, who owns a beer distributorship in Jackson, picked up on the same themes being used in the competitive Republican primary when he spoke to the crowd. McWherter is the only Democrat in the gubernatorial race, making him a sure winner in the Aug. 5 primary.
But McWherter didn’t stop with the GOP front-runner.
“Frankly, I don’t think Tennessee’s working families have any idea what that 20/20 Vision is about, nor do they want to give Washington the boot when they’re down here trying to help our flood victims.”
That last reference was to Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s campaign theme, which has had mixed reviews. Ramsey’s ads emphasize his black boots and how he wants to give Washington the boot and do things the “Tennessee way, not the Washington way.”
McWherter is not the only person to question Ramsey’s campaign theme in light of the state relying on federal disaster assistance after the historic May floods. Ramsey, whose campaign theme and logo were established long before the flood, has said the two matters are apples and oranges and that the flood is not a fair analogy.
The reference to a 20/20 Vision is about the campaign of Republican U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, who has said he is the only candidate with a clear vision, based on defined goals in business, education, health and safety.
But McWherter came back to Haslam.
“One thing I definitely know. The voters in Tennessee are not going to support a guy who is going to price-gouge them when they are at their most vulnerable,” McWherter said.
That line was about a settlement made by the Haslam family business, Pilot Corp., in 2009 regarding alleged price gouging on gas prices in 2008 in the wake of Hurricane Ike.
Pilot was among 16 companies and individuals to reach a settlement with the Tennessee attorney general. The price-gouging issue has been raised before in the campaign and is getting greater attention lately as the primary date approaches.
McWherter took a slap at Haslam when he began his campaign April 1, saying Haslam wasn’t being truthful about how many jobs he had created at Pilot, since the company’s workforce had grown by merger, not by simply hiring more people. Pilot within the last month merged with Flying J to create Pilot Flying J, which makes it one of the top 10 biggest privately owned companies in the nation. Pilot is known for its travel centers along roadways.
But along the line of jobs, McWherter reiterated on Friday his intention of giving Tennessee businesses tax breaks if they create jobs.
“It makes common sense. If you create jobs, we’ll give you a tax break. We have to look after our own,” McWherter said.
McWherter was introduced to the crowd by current Gov. Phil Bredesen, and McWherter was still crowing about the fact Bredesen recently held a fundraiser for McWherter in his home, considered an extraordinary step by Bredesen and his wife Andrea Conte.
McWherter, noting a tribute to retiring Democratic congressmen Bart Gordon and John Tanner minutes earlier, said he wasn’t going to let them fully retire since he knew where they lived and he would seek their help and advice.
McWherter then said, “Governor Bredesen, there’s no question about the fact I know where you live, because you had a fundraiser for me at your home. I know the code to the gate. I’ll be over there all the time.”
Bredesen recently gave McWherter a public endorsement.
Bredesen, who drew boisterous applause from the crowd, was introduced by 5th District U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who reminded the audience of Ned McWherter’s eight years as governor and Bredesen’s eight years coming around the eight years of service of Republican Gov. Don Sundquist.
“They don’t even want to mention that guy’s name,” Cooper said, referring to Republicans’ dislike of their own governor’s efforts to enact an income tax in the state.
As for Bredesen, Cooper said, “He helped restore confidence in our great state’s government.”
McWherter will face the Republican nominee Nov. 2. Several independent candidates are running in the general election as well.