Democrat sees opportunity with Republicans racing to ‘throw Haslam under the bus’

The state Senate’s two top Democrats say their party could win the governor’s office in 2018 if a “rabid Republican” wins the GOP nomination and a fellow like Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke is the Democratic nominee, according to the Times-Free Press.

Senate Democratic Leader Lee Harris and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro mentioned two other prospective Democratic nominees for governor in 2018, when Republican Gov. Bill Haslam will be ineligible to seek another term — Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan.

Harris, the Senate minority leader from Memphis, said statewide voters don’t tend to favor “rabid Republican” candidates. And he expects state Republicans to race in that direction during primaries.

“It almost seems like it’s a race to see who can throw Haslam under the bus fastest to prove their bona fides,” Harris said.

That gives Democrats an opportunity, he said.

“[If] you get a sensible leader on the Democratic side — Andy Berke is somebody with a track record, for example, of leadership, and a record of success and somebody who knows how to work with a broader audience — then I’d bet on Andy over an extreme Republican,” Harris said.

…Harris thinks Democrats stand a good chance of gaining the gubernatorial seat. Tennessee is near the bottom of the list of national rankings for education and health care, he said.

“I think a Democrat who proposes a set of solutions that promises to take us to the top half [of national rankings] in these important categories is going to find a really ready audience,” he said.

And Yarbro said Tennessee’s deep, dark-red reputation is “a little overstated.”

Historically, he said, moderates on both sides of the aisle are the ones who win statewide elections. When the rest of the country went to the GOP in the early 2000s, Tennessee elected Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, he said. And he added that Haslam has always been a middle-of-the-road Republican.

“The Howard Baker wing of the Republican Party has continued to be the ones that won statewide elections,” he said. “I think this is a commonsense, small ‘c’ conservative state.”

…State GOP Chairman Ryan Haynes said Democrats won’t have much to campaign on.

“If you look at the record of accomplishments that our leaders have put out and stack them up against theirs, we feel very confident that we will keep the governor’s mansion in the next few years,” he said. “I don’t think any of those candidates are household names across the state.”