Last weekend the Glenn Jacobs for Mayor Twitter account shared a photo of Himself shooting a gun, a formidable, flame-spitting AR-esque weapon. Most of Himself’s 47,287 Twitter followers who checked in – many of whom are wrestling fans who do not live in Knox County, or even in Tennessee – thought it was awesome.
It got me to thinking about the difference between the big, soft-spoken guy who shoots the breeze with regular folks in diners and dresses up like the Cat in the Hat to read to kindergartners, and the Glenn Jacobs of this Twitter account, which is frequently bot-like and repetitive and often macho and fierce. So, I started asking around to see if others had noticed the schizoid nature of Himself’s social media.
They’ve noticed it, but unlike me, they aren’t particularly puzzled by the dichotomy. They all said it was Ward Baker’s doings (or more precisely, one of the bright, shiny young hirelings in his shop). Since I don’t traffic much in the backroom dealings of the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party, for that matter, I didn’t know who Ward Baker was, so I asked. Turns out I’m way behind the times.
Ward Baker is a GOP political consultant from Mississippi now based in Nashville. Jacobs, unopposed in the primary, has paid him $19, 500 for his services in his current re-election campaign, and he is well on his way to becoming the Next Big Thing in Republican politics. His services are sought-after across the state (and in Georgia, apparently) by candidates who want to win and aren’t too picky about how to do it. He ran Bill Hagerty’s successful campaign for U.S. Senate and is said to be a favorite of Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is grateful for Baker’s help in securing GOP control of the Senate a few years back.
“He’s the ticket,” said one longtime local Republican. “And he’s building for the future. What he does nowadays to get ahold of young candidates who have higher aspirations and lock them in cheap enough that he breaks even and gets to collect data. Then, when they run statewide, he’s got the data in hand. It’s really a great business model.”
Everyone concedes that Baker is smart and effective, although many, including Republicans, question his methods. A supporter of Hagerty’s primary opponent, Manny Sethi M.D., whose family emigrated from India, says that the last weeks of the GOP primary campaign were brutal – marred by attack ads darkening Sethi’s skin tones and labeling him a Muslim.
A local Democrat labeled Ward Baker “the go-to guy for riling white people.”
If Baker is as successful in other Tennessee counties as he has been here, he’s making good money without having to cast his net outside the state. I haven’t found numbers on the recent boot camp he conducted for local candidates, but attendance was robust, and everyone looks happy.
Perhaps his star pupil in the group is Devin Driscoll, a former wrestler who owns a west Knox County gym and is a Republican Primary candidate for the at-large District 11 County Commission seat.
Kim Frazier, a longtime community volunteer who lives in Hardin Valley, is also a candidate for Seat 11 in the Republican Primary.
Driscoll, who reportedly is also eyeing a run for the mayor’s office in 2026, will be heavily bankrolled by local developers and will rely on a team of door-to-door campaigners who will receive guidance from Baker, to whom he reports having paid $2,500 so far.
Frazier is counting on a formidable group of volunteers who will support her with boots on the ground and financial contributions.
One longtime local Republican says that Baker has a lot riding on this race:
“Ward isn’t really interested in these local races, but in this case, he can tell people they need to get in on Devin now, because this is just the first step – he’s a candidate with a future. If Kim wins, that will really mess him up. He’d be looked on as having really screwed up.”
My source also said that Jacobs is on a collision course with House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who sees himself as the next governor.
At this point, I had to call to Kim Frazier. Is she scared? No, she’s not.
“I’m true to who I am. I am a bona fide Republican and I have been an active and engaged community servant leader for many years. I just have to focus on what I can bring to the table – and that’s a lot. I’ve been trusted to sit on boards, including the Knox County Ethics Committee and on the advisory committee for Advance Knox, which is a position appointed by the county mayor. He could have picked anyone, and he picked me.
“It’s Mr. Driscoll’s right to hand his campaign over to a big out-of-town firm if that’s his choice,” she said. “But it has been my experience that candidates hire large, expensive out-of-town firms when they have not been active in their area. They would rather hire someone to market an image than do the work to build a record as an individual community leader of substance.
“If you have deep relationships and years of community service, you don’t need a powerhouse PR firm to create those relationships for you.”
The old pros are putting their money on Driscoll. Literally. But Frazier’s nowhere close to backing down.
Note: I heard from Chris Holzen earlier this week. He said, “I was wrong.”
Holzen, a former Knoxvillian who worked for Dwight Kessel, has lived in Kyiv for more than 20 years working for the non-government organization International Republican Institute. In a recent KTT column, I reported that Holzen was confident that Russia would not attack. Tonight, on our deadline, there are reports of explosions in Kyiv.
Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.