So you want to be a senator

Frank CagleFrank Talk

We now know why it took former Gov. Bill Haslam so long to announce his decision not to run for the U.S. Senate. The same reason U.S. Rep. Mark Green, who was already running a stealth campaign pulled out.

The behind-the-scenes jockeying led President Trump to announce that we are all supposed to vote for his buddy Bill Hagerty. It remains to be seen whether Tennessee Volunteers will blindly vote for a guy they’ve never heard of simply because Trump tells them too.

We all know the Republican nominee will be the winner of the seat; Phil Bredesen was the Democratss’ best shot last time and he lost to Marsha Blackburn. So Trump appears to be trying to appoint Tennessee’s next senator.

Hagerty, who has never held public office, decided a Trump endorsement and his ability to raise money was all he needed on his resume. He didn’t even bother to make his own announcement, he had Trump do it for him. Given President Trump’s popularity in Tennessee it might seem that’s all he needs.

Haslam, despite being a popular governor, was known to be cool toward Trump, and Hagerty’s fund-raising support for Trump might have made a difference in the race. Besides, it’s rare for millionaires to run against each other in Tennessee, which made the Randy Boyd-Diane Black race such a hoot.

But there is another Trump supporter who has loads of public service experience and is an experienced campaigner. That would be U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, who represents Knoxville and environs in the Second District.

Is there a route for Burchett to win, given that he does not have the money Hagerty or Dr. Manny Sethi have? (Who?)

Suppose U. S. Rep. David Kustoff, from Memphis, stays in the race. He takes Memphis and sparsely populated West Tennessee off the table. Then Hagerty and Sethi, both from Nashville, battle for supremacy in Middle Tennessee. (Sethi was already running, though you might not have noticed. But he has over a million in the bank for his campaign.)

That leaves Burchett with a clear field in vote-rich East Tennessee.

Burchett, like Trump, is good at social media. You can overcome a lot of TV advertising with a grassroots social media campaign. With four candidates in the race a plurality wins.

Given that Trump has often cited Burchett as one of his favorite Congressmen, I don’t think he would attack Burchett for running against Hagerty. Hagerty raised enough money to get to be ambassador to Japan, but no one doubts Burchett’s conservative credentials.

Why should East Tennessee get behind Burchett? We’ve been spoiled by having Haslam as governor and Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker as U.S. senators. All East Tennesseans. We now have Gov. Bill Lee and U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn from Williamson County, a Nashville suburb. Hagerty gives the Nashville area a triumvirate.

East Tennessee does not need to be shut out of influence when it comes to statewide politics.

Hagerty is the ultimate insider which does not guarantee that he will be an effective campaigner. I suspect that most of East Tennessee, as well as the rest of the state, had one response to Trump’s announcement that Hagerty is running: Who?

It is doubtful that Burchett will run, but he ought to think about it. With Haslam out, where is there another East Tennessean who is a possibility? But East Tennesseans ought to encourage him to do so. Let’s have an election. Senators have not been appointed by people in a backroom since 1913, when the Seventeenth Amendment was passed calling for popular elections.

I suppose the election of Gov. Bill Lee, who had not held public office before, has ushered in a new dynamic. Neither Hagerty nor Sethi has ever been on a ballot.

On the other hand, Lee didn’t have or spend the money of his deep pocket opponents – Randy Boyd and Diane Black. Spending the most money doesn’t guarantee a win. Bredesen outspent Blackburn and lost by 10 points.

It is certainly a long shot for Buchett to run but running against a backroom deal and an appointed senator is a good issue. And his public service experience is far superior to anyone else running.

But if everyone but Hagerty drops out, all bets are off.

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Corker Inc. Former staffers of U.S. Sen. Bob Corker have started a new company. Todd Womack, Corker’s chief of staff, Micah Johnson, his communications director, and Brent Wiles, who directed Corker’s field offices, have formed a public relations firm call The Bridge. Corker did not seek re-election last year.

Frank Cagle is a retired newspaperman and the former managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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