Harsh Haslam-bashing foreseen if governor runs for Senate

The Associated Press and The Tennessean have collected comments and offered some observations on the developing Republican U.S. Senate primary in separate articles appearing this weekend.

In the Tennessean piece, the lead observation is that Gov. Bill Haslam, if he enters the race, is going to face a lot of opposition from the party’s right wing because of past criticisms of President Donald Trump and a public refusal to vote for him. The AP article includes criticism of the governor from Democrats as well.

Both quote from the conservative Club for Growth’s critique of Haslam on Friday.

Excerpt from the AP story:

Will Pinkston, a member of the Nashville school board who was among the Democrats who supported Haslam’s first run for governor in 2010 but has become a vocal critic on education issues… said “If Haslam runs for the Senate, Democrats should spend the next 13 months dragging him through the mud over Pilot Flying J.”

Haslam, who left his role with the company to run for Knoxville mayor in 2003, has said he had no knowledge of the scheme that led to criminal charges against executives at the company and an $85 million settlement with some of the defrauded customers as well as a $92 million penalty to the government.

…Andy Roth, the (Club for Growth) group’s vice president for government affairs, said Haslam is “cut from the same cloth” as what he calls Republican establishment figures like Corker, fellow Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“Any governor that supports Medicaid expansion is not going to be a candidate that will be well-received in a GOP primary,” Roth said.

Haslam told reporters this week that he’s ready for a spirited primary if he decides to get into the race.

“One of the advantages of having run several times and having been in office for a while is that you get a little bit more used to being shot at than you were initially,” he said.

Excerpts from The Tennessean report on the developing GOP primary:

“I think the primary is going to be a free-for-all, even if the governor gets in. He’s going to get challenged from his right,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for The Cook Political Report, where she tracks U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.

…U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn would be a favorite to receive any Trump endorsement if she entered the race. The 15-year congressional veteran was an early and vocal supporter of Trump and has a political track record that’s as far to the right politically as anyone in Congress.

Duffy questions whether Blackburn even gets in the race if Haslam enters.

“In a field absent Haslam, Blackburn’s a front-runner. If he does run, she’s not,” Duffy said.

“So it’s a very different equation for her. Is it worth giving up the seat she holds now for something that is far from a sure thing?”

… Haslam downplayed any impact his Trump critiques may have on a potential future campaign… did raise another factor that could mitigate any anti-Trump forces: his close relationship with Pence.

“Vice President Pence is a really good friend of mine,” Haslam said, adding, “I’m close to several people in the administration.”

Longtime Haslam confidant Tom Ingram said Tennessee voters don’t want a (Steve) Bannon to influence their elections or a Roy Moore-like candidate to represent them in the Senate.

“I think Tennesseans ought to elect their own senator and tell everybody else to stay the hell out of Tennessee. We’ve done a good job of it for years, and I think we can do a good job of it again,” Ingram said Thursday.

Tea party-aligned conservative activist Rick Williams said…  “You decide to not be for him (Trump) in the general election when his opponent was Hillary Clinton and now you want the Republican voters to give you the nomination for U.S. Senate … and be another thorn in (Trump’s) side like (Mitch) McConnell and (John) McCain?” Williams said. “I don’t think so.”

Everything from the governor’s recently approved gas tax hike to his desire to remove Nathan Bedford Forrest’s bust from the statehouse and his veto of a bill making the Holy Bible the official state book would be fodder for his opponents.

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