It's not every day that a legislator refuses to endorse his party's nominee for the seat he's leaving.
But that's the source of palpable awkwardness between Chattanooga mayoral candidate and state Sen. Andy Berke and the Democratic nominee for Berke's 10th District seat, City Councilman Andraé McGary.
"People are coming up asking me, 'Andraé, does Andy support you?'" McGary said Friday. "I have to tell them honestly and realistically, 'I don't know. I really don't know.'"
McGary, 33, said he needs Berke's reputation and vast fundraising network behind him as he battles against Republican Todd Gardenhire in a recently redrawn, conservative-leaning district.
"Andraé, I'm sure, is out there trying to establish his own identity," Berke, 44, said Thursday. "I'm going to vote for him."
But the Chattanooga attorney has no plans for the public show of affection McGary wants.
Berke's political allies said he has his reasons, mostly involving the transition from an increasingly red vs. blue Legislature to the nonpartisan environment he must conquer to succeed Mayor Ron Littlefield in March city elections.
"It would probably make the Gardenhire people less inclined to support Andy," said Councilman Jack Benson, who knows Berke and McGary well.
In July, Berke reported $383,000 in campaign funds on hand. Top fundraisers include perennial donors and elected officials of both parties.
McGary, a former radio talk show host, insisted he and Berke share the same "bipartisan" approach to government. He's disappointed in Berke's 10th District silence, which he described as a "fake" and "cowardly" attempt to curry favor with Republicans.
McGary said the lack of an endorsement matters, adding that Berke's caution has hurt his fundraising efforts and his campaign's ability to gather momentum.
"The sad reality is there's collateral damage to people like me," McGary said. "Campaign money, opening doors -- a lot of those things are now out of the question. All the dollars he's raising, he's raising for himself. But I'm holding out hope."
Berke announced he wouldn't seek re-election to the Senate when the GOP-drawn map brought in Republican strongholds in East Ridge, Bradley County and other historically conservative areas.
In an interview after his announcement, Berke said he felt "confident" when asked if he could still win with the new map. When asked the same question about McGary, he had a different response.
"That's for other people to say," he said. "I'm not a political handicapper. I'm a candidate for my own office."
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...