While Phil Bredesen may have succeeded in deflecting the spotlight that shown on him so brightly in the days after Tom Daschle removed himself from consideration for the position of Health and Human Services Secretary, the truth of the matter is that Tennessee still stands the very real possibility of losing its governor before his term ends.
Bredesen has been somewhat subtle about it but for those who can read between the lines it is quite clear Phil Bredesen would jump at the chance to serve the Obama Administration in Washington as either Secretary of Commerce or Health and Human Services.
Bredesen, as he has proved time and time again, is not a party loyalist. He routinely criticized Barack Obama during the Presidential campaign and, by praising a man who decided to eschew a Senate race against Lamar Alexander, he essentially endorsed the Republican in that race.
Despite running two victorious statewide campaigns, the second time carrying all 95 counties, Phil Bredesen has not succeeded in building a strong Democratic Party in Tennessee. His political success story is a personal one. His success and his defeats are largely apart from the party.
So, Phil Bredesen's party, to the extent you can even call it "his", is in shambles. Democrats have lost the state Senate. They are hanging on to limited power in the House by the thread of a moderate Republican betrayer. And, just recently, have turned over their actual party apparatus to a man who seems to lack establishment support and largely relies on volunteers to run the day to day operations of the party (to the extent that there are any).
Turning over the executive residence to the Republican in this economy may end up giving the Party some increased advantage in 2010 but largely, whether Bredesen stays or goes, the Democratic Party will remain in essentially the same predicament it finds itself now.
What a Bredesen departure would affect is not the Democratic Party but the Republican Party. Point of fact, an early Bredesen departure would throw a big bad grenade into a smoldering intraparty civil war.
Wamp partisans (as well as Gibbons) can say what they like but, right now, the Republican nomination for governor is Haslam's to lose. Yes, some movement conservatives and evangelicals don't like him and his past positions on guns may be a bit scary to the Second Amendment crowd. But Haslam has two very powerful things: money and a well-oiled political machine.
Zach Wamp may be a Congressman but he has little money and no power base from which to mount a campaign. He will run a credible race, just like Ed Bryant did in 2002 against Lamar but ultimately he will lose.
The only candidate who would even have half a shot at taking down Haslam is Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. Now, he doesn't have the kind of personal wealth that Haslam does but he knows the state in way that Wamp doesn't and most importantly, he knows the legislature -- and the lobbyists who frequent it.
True, Ramsey can't raise funds while the legislature is in session, but, just as soon as it's out, he's got a lot of people who are gonna want to give. After all, the man is the Lieutenant Governor. He's gonna have people who want to be on his good side, no matter what he decides to do.
Of course, it would be difficult for Ramsey to defeat Haslam under present conditions -- especially with Wamp in the race. Not impossible, but difficult. After all, Halam is backed with his big money and what is essentially Lamar Alexander's political machine. That combination hasn't lost many elections in Tennessee (see Bob Corker).
However, if Phil Bredesen were to leave for Washington. Lt. Gov. Ramsey would ascend to the governorship. Now, many folks talk about this as though its an unparalleled good for Republicans, and it is in many respects. However, Ron Ramsey as the incumbent governor running in 2010 could also very well ignite a serious intramural battle within the GOP.
If Bredesen does leave, Haslam will be faced with a choice: withdraw, pack up the machine he has put in motion to capture the executive residence and go home or continue on with the campaign and challenge a now incumbent Republican governor. Because, while Ramsey may be on the fence about running for governor, once he is governor, he doesn't have a choice. The day Bredesen leaves is the day Ramsey stars his campaign to keep that office.
Might Haslam just drop out at that point? I suppose its possible but, like I said, the Howard Baker wing of the party doesn't tend to lose primaries and while Ron Ramsey is not exactly a fire-breathing movement conservative ideologue he is close enough.
A Ramsey/Haslam primary with Ramsey as the incumbent would be the GOP primary to end all GOP primaries. Incumbents don't usually lose but then again neither do millionaires with experienced political machines behind them either.
Haslam, who he is and what he represents, irks certain elements of the GOP. The new ideologues, the evangelicals, the gun nuts -- they all are very suspicious of him. But without a little something extra they are powerless to stop him.
Ramsey in the race as an incumbent changes the game. With a Gov. Ramsey, the Right would have a credible candidate who could actually win a statewide primary.
It would be an epic struggle and, were it to take place, the result would likely settle more than a few intramural conflicts in the GOP once and for all.
Whether as member of either faction or as an observer, you have to be rooting for that.