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VOL. 125 | NO. 81 | Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Frist, Corker Urge Civility in Tenn. Governor’s Race

ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press Writer

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“When you’re in a primary, you never like it – you wish you weren’t in one. Primaries are tough, because it’s family.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker

NASHVILLE (AP) – Two veterans of some of Tennessee’s more fierce Republican primaries have some advice for the three Republican gubernatorial candidates as they head into the last 100 days of the nomination fight: Keep it civil.

Former Sen. Bill Frist and current Sen. Bob Corker, who faced each other in a mudslinging primary in 1994, said hard-fought contests can help sharpen the eventual nominee’s skills for the general election. But they can also take their toll.

“When you’re in a primary, you never like it – you wish you weren’t in one,” said Corker, who lost to Frist in 1994 but prevailed in another nasty nomination fight in 2006. “Primaries are tough, because it’s family.”

Tuesday marks 100 days remaining until the Aug. 5 gubernatorial primary. Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen can’t run again because of term limits.

The Republican candidates are Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga.

“We want to have an interesting, fiery, dynamic, creative stand being taken,” said Frist, who retired from the Senate in 2007. “But I hope we can increase civility.”

Civility was scarce at the conclusion of the fierce 1994 primary, in which Corker said Frist had lost the “Tabby vote” for his disclosure that he picked up cats from animal shelters and killed them during medical school experiments in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, Frist’s campaign manager called Corker “pond scum” for television advertisements attacking Frist for failing to register to vote until just six years earlier and never having voted in a GOP primary.

Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, son of former Gov. Ned McWherter, is unopposed in this year’s Democratic primary.

All three Republicans have launched television advertising spots, but none overtly attack their rivals. Nevertheless, Wamp said he’s become the target of negative tactics, ranging from anonymous fliers to what he has called “highly unethical” polling methods.

“I really have a lot of faith that people will see through the dirty tricks and the fliers and the nastiness, and the name calling,” Wamp said.

The Wamp campaign late last week said Haslam has been operating a push poll that included “a series of false or misleading statements about Wamp.” Haslam spokesman David Smith said Wamp’s allegations are misplaced.

“We’re sorry the congressman is bothered by our voter-ID survey and doesn’t know the difference between that and a push poll,” Smith said in an e-mailed statement. “It’s a data survey only.”

Wamp said he plans to keep a positive approach to his campaign, though he acknowledged he will highlight certain policy differences.

“In a campaign, iron sharpens iron, and sparks do fly,” he said. “There may be a time when the left hook comes out, but I’m positive.”

Ramsey has been the most vocal critic of Wamp’s time in Congress, and his campaign ad stresses a rejection of what he calls the “Washington way” of governance.

“When we talk about Washington, the congressman thinks we’re talking about him,” Ramsey said about Wamp. “Obviously he’s got very thin skin.”

Haslam, the runaway fundraising leader in the campaign so far, said he was prepared to endure attacks when he announced his candidacy in January 2009.

“Before you decide to go into a race you weigh all that out,” Haslam said. “You realize there’s a decent chance that people get negative in these situations. ... And you’re ready for it if it does.”

Haslam has come under fire from his opponents for refusing to release his earnings from family-owned Pilot Corp., a chain of truck stops and convenience stores with $16 billion in revenues.

“We’ve got real problems out there, the budget situation gets worse every day,” Haslam said. “I think people want us to talk about the important stuff.”

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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