Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam has been elected Tennessee's 49th governor, winning in convincing fashion Tuesday night and returning the governor's office to the Republican Party. It appears Haslam will carry every region of the state with ease, besting Democratic opponent and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter.
"We're very excited about tonight and believe he will be a great governor," said campaign strategist Tom Ingram, who was at Haslam's victory party in Knoxville.
Gov. Phil Bredesen, who leaves after two terms, said he will help Haslam transition to the new job in the coming weeks.
"My congratulations to Governor-elect Bill Haslam on his victory tonight," Bredesen said in a statement. "Governor-elect Haslam will bring a reasoned, common-sense approach to governing our state, and I know he will continue to build on the progress we've made in recent years."
In the past few weeks, Haslam's message faltered amid concerns that he would — as he said two weeks ago — sign legislation to abolish gun permits if the legislature passed it. But the ensuing uproar was both too little and late to be of any assistance to the beleaguered McWherter campaign.
Haslam's victory seemed pre-ordained since he won a bitter GOP primary battle over outgoing U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. While Haslam won't have to contend with Wamp in the future, he now must work with Ramsey, who is expected to cruise to re-election as the state's No. 2 in January. Haslam will also face a fractious state House that is searching for a leader.
The first order of business for Haslam and his team will be to consider who might fill his cabinet and lead state government. While there will be publicly named search committees, much of the vetting work will be done by Haslam's inner circle, and Republican operatives will be watching those moves closely.
Probably the most anticipated apoointment on Haslam's radar will be his deputy governor, which historically serves as a chief of staff and works with members of the Tennessee General Assembly. While Haslam may have experience as a mayor, working with a city council is considerably different than dealing with the state legislature, and Haslam will need a strong hand to help him navigate.
With Haslam's election, Knoxville may now have a special election to contend with, depending on when Haslam steps down from that office. Should he resign immediately, there would be a special election for someone to serve out the remainder of his term.