Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle joined his House counterpart Wednesday in declaring disinterest in running for governor, even though he waged a brief campaign for the office in 2010.
“I haven’t thought about it,” said Kyle, D-Memphis, adding that he had hoped House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley would run. As for himself, Kyle said he is not really interested, though stopping short of absolutely ruling it out.
“I’ve thought more about ‘do I want to leave the Senate and become a judge or do I want to stay in the Senate.’ That is the decision I’ve got to make between now and the end of the year,” he said. “That’s what I’ve focused all of my energy on.”
Fitzhugh, who has toyed with the idea of running for governor since December, said earlier this week that he has decided to instead seek re-election to his West Tennessee House seat and another term as head of House Democrats.
Kyle ran briefly for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2012, then withdrew — along with three other Democrats who initially declared themselves candidates, including the party’s current chairman, former state Sen. Roy Herron. Dresden businessman Mike McWherter won the nomination, then lost to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
Earlier this year, Kyle sought appointment by the Shelby County Commission to a vacant position as Probate Court judge, but veteran Memphis lawyers Kathleen Gomes got the appointment instead. But the Gomes seat and several other trial judge positions will be up for election next year and Kyle said he may seek one of them. If he wins, he would have to resign his Senate seat to serve.
Haslam already has $2 million cash on hand for his re-election campaign and no announced opponent in the Republican primary. Similarly, Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has $3 million cash on hand for his re-election campaign and no announced primary opponent.
Both Fitzhugh and Kyle said they are hopeful that credible Democrats will step forward to run for U.S. Senator and governor. But Kyle said it will not be a tragedy for the party if no Democrat runs.
“I do not feel that the Democratic Party is damaged by not fielding a major candidate,” said Kyle, noting that Republicans — when they were the state’s minority party — often went through elections without seriously challenging incumbent Democrats.
He conceded that the party faced “an unpleasant situation” in 2012 when the U.S. Senate nomination was won by Mark Clayton, who was subsequently disavowed by the party for “extremist views.” The party has since set up a new candidate vetting operation that is supposed to keep such people off the primary ballot.
But Democrats would be just as well off without a candidate as someone who is “just a name on the ballot,” Kyle said and accepting the present state of affairs as “just part of the ins and outs of Tennessee politics.”