Ralph Bristol begs off of state Senate bid

As we first reported in the current edition of the Tennessee Journal, former conservative talk radio host Ralph Bristol had agreed to run against state Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) this fall before ultimately changing his mind because of objections to the campaign tactics that he was told he would have had to pursue.

Following is Bristol’s own account about why he made the decision not to run:

It was 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 8 when I saw the first text from Sen. Kerry Roberts, saying “How about running for state senate.”

I had considered it about 6 months earlier, and got some fairly enthusiastic reaction from some key members of both the Senate and House, so I ran it past my employer, Cumulus Media, who said I could not continue to be a talk show host if I ran for senate because of “equal time” considerations demanded by the FCC.

After that, I just laughed off similar suggestions, until I got the text from Sen. Roberts and then another, about six hours later, from Sen. Jack Johnson. I was no longer working for Cumulus, so that reason was void, as Jack reminded me.

Between the two texts, I ran through my mind one more time whether there was a good enough reason to run. There was, but it was almost certainly a bridge too far.  I would consider running under one condition – that if I won, the Senate leadership would appoint a task force to try to put together a healthcare delivery model that could save federal and state taxpayers 30% or more, without reducing any health benefits to the patients, and I would be allowed to help lead the effort. I had done enough research to convince myself it could be done.

As it turns out, my condition was not as outlandish as I thought. Two days later, Sen. Randy McNally and GOP Chairman Scott Golden called me. I repeated my condition. Sen. McNally agreed to it, and I agreed to run for Senate.

I asked Rick Williams to be my campaign manager because I knew he had been involved with many races and issues in Nashville, he’s not married to one party or the other, he knows the district (about 60-40 Democrat) and the people I would need to know, including Democrats, and he loves the “ground game.”

I wanted to tour the district and do a lot of small, open town hall meetings (in unusual places, like barber shops after they close) where I would fully explain positions and take on challengers. I even lined up my own barber shop for a practice town hall with friends.

And, I would do a parallel “fun” tour, where I would visit local pool halls and challenge the house. I’ve played pool since I was a kid, and I enjoy both the game the people who hang around pool halls.  It could make for some fun campaign videos.

But, nearly everyone I met for the next two weeks confirmed advice I had gotten earlier – advice I didn’t want to hear – that certain elements of a campaign are necessary, even if distasteful, and while I could modify some of them, I would likely be wasting my time if I left out all of the elements I wanted to avoid: attacking my opponent, dialing for dollars, sending “junk” mailers, interrupting people’s dinners with phone calls or door knocks, or both, and buying broadcast ads filled with worn-out talking points.

So, even after arranging a practice town hall and inviting a few friends to attend, three weeks after I decided to run, I changed my mind and could not go through with it. With no offense intended to the other fine men and women I know in the state House and Senate, I simply can’t do what they apparently have to do to get elected. Looking from the outside, I’ve always found political campaigns to be beneath the dignity of most of the people running for office. It looks even worse from the inside, and I never got all the way inside.

There has simply got to be a better way. But for now, there doesn’t appear to be.

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