‘Interested observer’ Haslam eyes would-be successors, recalls ‘personal vulnerability’ of campaigning

Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s an “interested observer” in the developing campaign to succeed him and doesn’t have a favorite in the Republican primary, reports the Times Free Press – with a bit of reminiscing about the campaign that led to his 2010 election.

Haslam said he’s spoken with almost all the major announced or expected Republican and Democratic candidates and knew most of them already. The governor said he’s keeping up with the campaign for several reasons.

One is strictly personal and includes empathy for anyone embarking on a statewide campaign, an ordeal he described from experience as a “physically grueling process that has a certain personal vulnerability to it that takes most people a while to get used to.”

Haslam’s other interest deals with his own administration’s legacy. “You know, you do this job for now coming on 6 1/2 years, and you put certain things in place. You’re really interested in who takes your place.”

…Haslam, a billionaire whose father founded what’s now the nation’s largest truck stop chain, Pilot Flying J, was in a four-person GOP primary. Plenty of sharp elbows ere flung, mostly at him.

“There’s a certain vulnerability to being a candidate on the statewide stage for a two-year period that you’re probably not used to,” Haslam said as he reflected. “I’ve been a mayor and so we’d had local media, but it’s a different thing having statewide media.”

…Then-U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, another candidate, repeatedly questioned Haslam’s accomplishments as company president at Pilot. At one point Wamp compared Haslam to the character of nice-guy Bobby Ewing on the 1970s/1980s prime-time soap opera “Dallas.”

“He’s a nice man — Bobby was the nicest guy in that family — but he was never in charge,” Wamp said as he sought to belittle Haslam’s achievements. Wamp also charged that a Pilot Travel Centers subsidiary “operates casinos and other casino games in at least three states” and has ties to “international gaming interests.”

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