KINGSPORT — Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist isn’t a candidate right now to be Tennessee’s next governor, but his actions seem to be pointing that way.
Frist spoke to a $50-per-person fund-raising breakfast Friday for 2nd House District GOP challenger Tony Shipley of Colonial Heights as part of an effort to lift up Republican state legislative candidates.
“I’m going to make a decision sometime, probably early part of next year,” Frist said of a possible 2010 run for governor. “I have a short-term goal of getting people like Tony elected, and I will be traveling all over the state raising money for them. I will be using a very large e-mail database and new media to get them elected, and that’s where the focus will be — in Tennessee.”
Frist, a physician who served two terms as a U.S. senator, said his VOLPAC political action committee has given about $750,000 to the Tennessee Republican Party over the last two election cycles.
Frist pointed out that he is also bringing Republican star power to the state — people like former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich — to help raise money for GOP candidates.
“Our goal is to take the House and strengthen the Senate,” Frist said. “Tony represents so much of what makes this country great in terms of teaching, military and lower taxes, and he’s strong on immigration issues. He best represents the people of the area. Our goal is to make sure the Tennessee legislature really does reflect their communities and the people of Tennessee. ... The liberal left is simply out of sync with the people of America.”
Sixteen of the Senate’s 33 seats are up for election this November, while all 99 House seats are up for grabs.
In the House, Democrats hold a 53-46 majority. House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol said he has identified “five to eight” opportunities for Republicans to pick up seats and retake the House.
A Republican hasn’t held the 2nd House District seat — which represents parts of Kingsport and Sullivan County — since 2002. Shipley will oppose incumbent Democratic state Rep. Nathan Vaughn of Kingsport.
“We are going to focus on how the current representative is out of sync, more so than anyone in the legislature,” Mumpower said of Vaughn. “He talks the talk at home ... and casts votes contrary to what the people of this community believe whether it’s on immigration, taxes, the life issue, you name it. He hides 300 miles from home in the state capital.”
Shipley said he will demonstrate that he can be a team player with the GOP-dominated Northeast Tennessee caucus of lawmakers.
“We’ve been trying to show the community that we really have a team — a fiscally and socially conservative, pro-American team,” Shipley said.
At this point, Vaughn holds a fund-raising advantage over Shipley.
Shipley’s last report filed with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance last Tuesday showed a balance of about $8,500, while Vaughn showed about $56,200 in his campaign account in a report filed at the end of last January.
In the Senate, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, the GOP is struggling to stay in charge.
The lone independent member of the Senate is Maynardville’s Mike Williams, who on Thursday announced he will seek re-election to his 4th Senatorial District seat. His main competition is expected to be Church Hill Republican Mike Faulk.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Blountville Republican who has also been pondering a run for governor in 2010, is seeking to unseat Williams and achieve a working GOP majority in the Senate.
“It did surprise me because he told everybody face to face that he wasn’t going to run,” Ramsey said of Williams’ decision. “Once again, I’m 100 percent behind Mike Faulk.”
For more about VOLPAC go to www.volpac.org.