Both Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower think that a Fred Thompson-Hillary Clinton presidential campaign matchup would help their 2008 political efforts to win Republican majorities in the state Senate and House.
"I'm not a huge believer in coattails," said Ramsey, R-Blountville. "You have to win races based on your own (merits). ... But the (voter) turnout itself is what would help. Hillary is the quintessential liberal that very few people in the state identify with."
Ramsey presides over a state Senate with 16 Republicans, 16 Democrats and one independent - state Sen. Mike Williams of Maynardville.
A Thompson presidential campaign, said Ramsey, could result in a higher turnout of Republicans and independents.
"In 2004 the two races we won to gain the majority in the state Senate at that time ... one was in Sumner County and the other in Rutherford County. Bush carried both of those districts by 65 percent. I think if Fred is on the ticket, especially against Hillary Clinton, he would get closer to 70 percent across the state - maybe higher than that in some districts," Ramsey said.
Even-numbered Senate seats are up for grabs next year, and Ramsey indicated five of those could turn Republican.
The seats include the southern Middle Tennessee 14th Senate District seat held by state Sen. Jerry Cooper, D-Morrison, who was recently acquitted on charges that he used his political influence in a bogus land deal. Cooper also faces drunken driving charges in a separate and unrelated case.
Then there is the 10th Senate District seat in the Chattanooga area held by Democratic incumbent Ward Crutchfield, who awaits trial on federal bribery charges resulting from the "Tennessee Waltz" sting.
Ramsey also feels Republicans have a chance at taking the 12th Senate District seat west of Knoxville held by state Sen. Tommy Kilby, D-Wartburg, who has announced he will not seek re-election. Ramsey even believes that the 26th Senate District seat held by former Lt. Gov. John Wilder, D-Mason, is leaning toward the GOP in West Tennessee.
Williams, whose 4th Senate District includes Hawkins and Hancock counties in Northeast Tennessee, turned from Republican to independent this year. Church Hill attorney Mike Faulk, a Republican, said he has formed an exploratory committee to run against Williams and started raising money for his campaign on June 1.
"The whole idea, just like Fred Thompson is doing, is to test the waters to confirm what I've been told. ... Assuming it is as positive as the warm remarks have been, I expect to be the candidate," Faulk said.
Mumpower, R-Bristol, needs to pick up four seats for the GOP to take over the House, where Democrats hold a 53-46 majority.
"I do think it would help motivate both Republicans and independents across Tennessee to get out and vote especially if we had Fred Thompson versus Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama," Mumpower said. "I'm going to be working hard this year and next year to make sure we have quality candidates."
Tennessee Democratic Party (TDP) Chairman Gray Sasser indicated he will be working to make sure that no red pickup truck - a symbol from Thompson's successful U.S. Senate race in the 1990s - is ever parked at the White House.
"Fred Thompson can't decide on his new role," TDP spokesman Wade Munday said in an e-mailed release. "The senator continues to amble away from his lobbying past as if it were another life for him, avoiding all questions about his million-dollar earnings as a corporate Washington, D.C., insider."
TDP worked unsuccessfully to defeat Ramsey in the 2nd Senatorial District in 2004. Ramsey defeated Sullivan County Commissioner John McKamey of Piney Flats by more than 20,000 votes, but his campaign spent nearly $300,000 on the race.
"Obviously I don't want (an opponent)," Ramsey said of the prospect of opposing a Democrat in a Senate race next year. "But I feel confident they will try to do that again."