Not Ned Ray, Democrats, and East TennesseeNot Ned Ray McWherter declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Tennessee at Rocky Mount, along with three other Democrats. Of the Democrats present, it is widely believed that Not Ned may have the best chance of winning the nomination merely because of name recognition.
While Democrats have shown in the past that they can carry chunks of East Tennessee in a Statewide race, or in the case of Al Gore and Phil Bredesen, carry every county in the State, including the heavily-Republican East, Democrats only tend to do extremely well in East Tennessee when they run candidates who are right-of-center moderates or outright conservatives. After all, the Al "I've Hoed-It-and-Hung-It-In-the-Barn" Gore who ran for election to the U.S. Senate in 1984 and again in 1990 was a far cry from the Gore we know today. That Gore ran as a populist, Southern, right-of-center, pro-life moderate before becoming a serious national Democratic figure (if Gore were really the "raging Southern moderate" that he portrayed himself as being, he sold his soul to achieve national stature-and we wonder why he couldn't carry Tennessee in 2000). Phil Bredesen won and was re-elected by running as a right-of-center Democrat, even attempting in certain instances to run to the Republicans' right.
This is why it is so funny to watch some of these Democrats come to East Tennessee and have a dog-and-pony show. A few of them might be sincere about some of the things they say, but if they are they also know that they could never achieve national prominence as Democrats, since they sound too much like Republicans. Most all of the serious Democrats in the area were probably in Piney Flats the other day eating barbecue. Meanwhile, they haven't run a real candidate for Congress since Robert Love Taylor, who would probably be a Republican if he were alive today.
Their political offerings work hard, and get crushed like a wet noodle at General Election time. The Democrats they do manage to elect to the Legislature (Eddie Yokley, John Litz) from this part of the State vote with the Republicans on all the major issues somewhere between 80% (Litz) and 90% (Yokley) of the time. Most of the bills which the Statewide Democratic party is presently decrying passed with a large number of Democrats-most from rural, red-meat parts of the State-voting in the affirmative.
Few people in these parts even know who Kim McMillan is, despite her years of leadership in the House. Ward Cammack is someone who only political hacks are aware of, and a few more know something about State Sen. Roy Herron-but not enough. That leaves only Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle and Not Ned Ray. Of those two, only Not Ned has the Statewide name recognition to concievably survive the General Election of 2010.
Ned McWherter is not a man whose political ideas lend themselves to agreement from the likes of me, but I do believe that Ned McWherter carried himself with a level of class and dignity that the Democratic field of today-indeed the entire Tennessee Democratic Party-is sorely lacking. He set an example for Democrats around the country that they failed to follow over the long-term. While Mike McWherter may be a fine person, it is hard to see Daddy's common touch in his son, because unlike his father, Mike didn't grow up in the hardships that his father did, and I doubt that he has the understanding of life for everyday Tennesseans that his father seemed to have. On top of all that, the political acumen that Ned McWherter displayed throughout his career doesn't seem to be there for Mike. Mike was never a State Representative, nor has he had much experience in State government. Mike was never elected Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, and Mike's role in State government prior to running for Governor was not so influential that the Tennessee House of Representatives still uses rules and procedures he established as Speaker-those things were all Ned McWherter's legacy, not Mike's.
The Democrats' most well-known candidate is a Legacy with an uphill climb, and they are talking about a 2010 House majority.
A lot can happen between now and next November, but I somehow doubt the Democratic brand is going to get much more popular in the current climate, especially in East Tennessee. The Democrats can keep on dreaming, though.