NASHVILLE — If U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., is counting on all the Republican legislators in his backyard to back his 2010 GOP primary bid for governor, the Chattanooga congressman better check his math.
Three of the five state Republican legislators who represent Hamilton County said Monday they are taking no sides in the GOP primary contest, which includes U.S. Rep. Wamp, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, meanwhile, who is expressing a keen interest in running, recently formed an exploratory committee and is traveling the state, hitting Chattanooga on Monday for the second time in less than a week.
State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said he believes he should stay on the GOP primary’s sidelines given his friendships with both U.S. Rep. Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ramsey.
“He (Wamp) is a close friend of mine from Hamiton County who I’ve supported as a congressman and he’s supported me when I was running for the House and the state Senate,” Sen. Watson said. “On the other hand I’ve got Ron Ramsey, who is my speaker of the Senate, who I’ve supported for speaker of the Senate twice now ... and who’s supported me.”
Moreover, Sen. Watson said, he and Lt. Gov. Ramsey are roommates in Nashville, sharing an apartment with yet a third senator while on legislative business in the state capital.
Efforts to contact U.S. Rep. Wamp on Monday were unsuccessful.
Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, who represents portions of Hamilton County, said they intend to stay neutral at least for now. Both men and Sen. Watson said they will support the party’s nominee.
State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, both said they are backing U.S. Rep. Wamp in the primary.
“I believe loyalty is important and Zach has stood by me over the last 15 or 20 years, and I just believe when your friends are running for something and they’ve been loyal to you, you should be loyal to them,” Rep. McCormick said.
Rep. McCormick said prior to Lt. Gov. Ramsey’s all-but-official decision to get into the race, “I think Zach had the majority of legislators probably leaning his way. I think with Ron in it though, that complicates (it).”
He said a legislator’s endorsement may not necessarily bring a candidate votes but the legislator can be helpful in introducing the candidate to a community’s opinion leaders and political activists.
Rep. Dean said he “absolutely” will be behind U.S. Rep. Wamp.
“Zach’s somebody you can talk to,” he said. “He’s very intelligent. He understands the people of Tennessee. He’s got a wide base of support and he’s a ... hometown boy.”
Rep. Floyd said he has backed U.S. Rep. Wamp in all his congressional campaigns, but the prospect of a GOP gubernatorial primary concerns him.
“The thing I want, all the people who are running for governor, they’ll run the (poll) numbers, they’ll see who the leader of the pack is and we would not waste millions of dollars in primary dollars and use that to win that governor’s seat.”
Rep. Cobb said he is neutral “at this point, too.”
“I’ll hold out my endorsement until I see one who emerges with the most leadership qualifications and, of course, has electability as well,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Ramsey said lawmakers “can be for whoever they want to be for or be neutral.” He said he understands the “tight spot” Sen. Watson finds himself in.
The lieutenant governor said he believes he will do “very well” getting support from legislators. While he hasn’t officially polled members, he said, “I think the majority of my senators are with me. The majority of the House members are.”
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...