“I think that I would be one of the handful of front-runners on the Republican side,” Ramsey, a Blountville Republican state senator who represents Sullivan and Johnson counties, said of that thought. “Obviously the most important thing right now is to be re-elected in November 2008. But I am making a name across the state, so it’s not something I’ve ruled out for sure.”
The race to succeed Democrat Phil Bredesen, who cannot run for a third term under the state’s constitution, might be crowded. Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp are among those mentioned in news stories as possible Republican gubernatorial hopefuls. Possible Democratic contenders include U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis and former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan, who now serves as Bredesen’s senior adviser.
Ramsey has been raising his profile across the state by speaking at dozens of GOP Lincoln Day dinners and a number of Republican fund-raisers.
Ramsey’s more immediate priority is to be re-elected to his 2nd Senatorial District seat in 2008. The Tennessee Democratic Party was not able to defeat him in his 2004 re-election bid. Ramsey thumped Sullivan County Commissioner John McKamey of Piney Flats by more than 20,000 votes, but his campaign spent nearly $300,000 on the race.
Ramsey’s campaign account reported having less than $90,000 cash on hand at the end of June, according to the Registry of Election Finance. He admitted it’s a tough time right now to raise money.
“You have (former Tennessee U.S. Sen. and expected presidential candidate) Fred Thompson who is doing all he can to raise money,” Ramsey explained. “You have (current Tennessee U.S. Sen.) Lamar (Alexander who is running for re-election in 2008) who will soon be doing a fund-raiser where I will be one of the co-hosts. Everybody right now is asking for money, and I’ve not started my own campaign. I need to make sure I have a pretty good nest egg by the time we go back into (legislative) session because from January on we can’t raise money until we get out of session.”
If re-elected, Ramsey’s next challenge would be holding on to the job as lieutenant governor and Senate speaker. Early this year, Ramsey garnered all of the GOP senators and one Democratic senator, Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, in the vote for lieutenant governor. He won 18 votes to 15 for former Lt. Gov. John Wilder, making him the first Republican to serve as speaker of the Senate in 140 years.
Since then, the Senate’s makeup has changed. Republican state Sen. Mike Williams of Maynardville became an independent. The Senate now holds 16 Republicans and 16 Democrats.
One test of Ramsey’s leadership could occur this fall when Chattanooga area voters head to the polls in a special election to choose a new state senator for the 10th Senatorial District. Democrat Ward Crutchfield, who resigned after issuing a guilty plea to taking a bribe in the FBI’s “Tennessee Waltz” sting, had held the seat for more than 20 years.
Ramsey indicated that Lookout Mountain Republican Oscar Brock, son of former Tennessee U.S. Sen. Bill Brock, is expected to run for the state Senate seat.
“It’s a Democrat district,” Ramsey said of the 10th Senatorial District area. “Oscar Brock is as good a candidate as you could possibly find. He is well-known. He is a good man to begin with, and he has a little bit of personal money to where he can be somewhat of a self-financier. ... It’s a seat where (President) Bush got 44.7 percent during 2004. So it’s a leaning Democrat district. ... If (Oscar Brock) didn’t (win), it’s not like that sets the tone for next year’s election.”