Making possible gubernatorial preparations, Frist hits GOP’s grassroots

Monday, April 14, 2008 at 1:48am

Bill Frist appears to be running for governor in 2010 — even if he won’t admit it.

The former Senate Majority Leader, who teaches at Princeton and discusses and practices health care on a global scale, appears to have increasingly turned his attention to grassroots Tennessee politics and Republicans in the state Legislature.

For example, earlier this month, Frist went to upper-East Tennessee to raise money for two Republican challengers for Democratic House seats. Those were two of the five fundraisers Frist has attended for either GOP incumbents or challengers for legislative seats — so far.

Frist was also the keynote speaker for the Carter County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, will speak to the Rutherford County Reagan Day Dinner next month, attended the spring meeting of the GOP’s executive committee and has or will be speaking to other grassroots groups.

And perhaps most telling, Frist was grand marshal at the Mule Day Parade in Columbia, a key event for Tennessee politicians.

Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said Frist’s activities show he is “doing all of the things you would expect somebody who’s going to run for governor would do” prior to the gubernatorial election cycle.

“That’s one sort of feather he can put in his hat when it comes to the nomination process — I’ve been out there working for the state party and helping a lot of candidates,” Oppenheimer said. “He’s built up chits with them.”

Frist, who says he won’t announce his gubernatorial intentions until early 2009, has written in recent blog posts about the need to strengthen the Republican Party in Tennessee and how he and his political action committee, VOLPAC, were “devoting significant energy” toward electing Republican legislators.

Currently, the Republicans are four seats from a majority in the state House. The state Senate is 16-16-1, but the GOP has operational control of the chamber.

“Between now and Election Day our challenge as Tennessee Republicans is to organize, energize and inform our fellow voters across the state,” Frist wrote on an April 3 blog post. “You can bet VOLPAC and I will be leading the charge.”

In the past two election cycles, VOLPAC has contributed about $750,000 to either the Tennessee Republican Party or GOP legislative candidates.

Ed Cromer, the editor of the non-partisan political newsletter Tennessee Journal, said Frist’s ramped up grassroots activity follows a similar tact used by those with statewide ambition, perhaps most recently exhibited in Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr.

“(Frist) is already known around the state,” Cromer said. “I think in this case it’s just sort of keeping a presence and helping some people who might later on be able to help him.”

Officially, spokesman Matt Lehigh said Frist “remains dedicated” to “helping strengthen the majority in the Senate and gain a majority in the (state) House.”

“He’s confirmed that he’s considering the possibility of running for governor, but that he won’t arrive until a decision until early next year,” Lehigh said.

Ambitious Republicans with eyes toward one day residing in the governor’s mansion will be watching Frist’s every move.

Those Republicans who may also have an interest in running include Ramsey, U.S Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and Zach Wamp (R-Chattanooga) as well as state Rep. Beth Harwell (R-Nashville).

If Frist gets in though, he may clear the GOP field, Oppenheimer said.

“I think they now have to put things on hold to see whether Frist decides to run because, ya know, the cost of getting in against Frist would be very high,” Oppenheimer said, referencing the two-term senator’s personal wealth, fundraising prowess and name identification.

Before ultimately deciding against a run, Frist heavily weighed running for president.

While he may still have those aspirations, this year’s presidential election may also affect Frist’s future political intentions and sway him against running for governor.

Oppenheimer speculated that if Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, were elected president, Frist could be considered for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Or, McCain’s election may “block” Frist’s presidential aspirations, Oppenheimer said.

“There’s always a chance he will say, ya know, it’s not worth it,” Oppenheimer said. “Being a governor will be a headache, or if I have presidential ambitions, it will not be a stepping stone.”

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By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

He couldn't run the Senate how is he going to run the State?Reid said "BOO" to him and he jumped.

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

A fine candidate for Governor.

By: HokeyPokey on 12/31/69 at 6:00

He's a credit to his race.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Frist spent most of his waning days in the Senate trying to kill the inheritance tax, while Jim Cooper was working to keep the sales tax deduction. Cooper was working for us, while Frist was trying to make sure he got all of daddy's millions. In my opinion Cooper- who is no raving liberal - would make an excellent Governor. Frist should just stay home, barbecuing the neighbor's cats and replaying videos of him hugging Dumbya.

By: Truthby on 12/31/69 at 6:00

There are many things about Mr. Frist which I admire. However, I dislike him as a gubernatorial candidate going into the gate for several reasons1-I believe he was quite ineffective as a leader in the Senate-I did not sense strong moral leadership in his authority or actions2-He supported stem cell research in opposition to Pres. Bush. To me, if you support abortion, you are a murderer. I find it difficult to understand how a doctor cannot recognize life begins at conception.3-He has never served his country in the military. I do not see him as a valiant male figure which I would want to emulate.4-To my knowledge he has never started or run a business. Running a state requires keeping spending under control, not creating more debt5-He believes his position and history has given him the right to operate indiscriminately in the election process-he has gone against the spirit of the law of the state party which says certain leaders shall not endorse a candidate in a contested primary, thus thwarting the will of the people.

By: shinestx on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I've been a Republican for twenty years, but I can not support Senator Frist again. Here's a man who couldn't even get a much needed Federal Courthouse in his hometown funded... as Senate Majority Leader!!! He managed to get the nonexistent courthouse named for him, but maybe our next representatives from TN can actually get it funded. Then, we can name an actual, existing courthouse for somebody else.

By: Fundit on 12/31/69 at 6:00

But he can build one heckavu house.http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/04/washington/04mansion.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Please note I am definitely NOT talking about Jerry Cooper. In a race between Jerry and Frist, I'd have to vote 'none of the above'.Repubs have a lot of choices, with 'Bubba' Ramsey, Marsha, Van Hilarious.... The only Dems I see winning are Harold Ford Jr. and JIM Cooper, neither of whom are to my knowledge running for the position.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Truthby, a thoughtful post even though we are looking at Frist from different sides of the opinion spectrum. re number 3, do you remember his campaigning for other R's in a plaid shirt? Even Lamar looks more comfortable in that attire!

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I would like to see Marsha run. Hillary is like the other hillary to me. He deprived us of a good senator and got the old RINO elected.What has Ramsey done for us?

By: tv8527 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

No way I can support Frist.Give me Van Hillary or Marsha Blackburn any day.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

In pointing out Repub choices I by no means indicated they were quality candidates, I just see them as being able to collect votes. I think Marsha and Van together might almost have the smarts to equal one brain and Ramsey hasn't shown me anything either.

By: tv8527 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

TfT either Marsha or Van beat the hell out of ANY democrat you have that can run on the state level.

By: revo-lou on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Then why isn’t Van Hillary the Governor!!!

By: morpheus120 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Once again Nashville's wingnut-o-sphere speaks before it thinks.Bill. Frist. For. Governor. Of. Tennessee...Um... what kind of crack are y'all smoking? This ain't Washington D.C., it's good ol' Tennessee.Bill Frist would run our state into the ground like Bush has done with the whole country! We've seen what Frist's "values" were while he served as both a Senator and then as the Senate Majority Loser who was partially responsible, along with Bush himself, for one of the worst electoral disasters the Republican Party has faced in 40 years.Having GOVERNOR FRIST **shudder, stifles nausea** will almost certainly guarantee that within only a few years, Tennessee will plummet to the absolute bottom in school funding and test scores because of Frist's unflinching support of NCLB. But the decay of the schools will be a slower process than the almost immediate impact on the state economy. An unflinching Borrow And Spend Conservative like Bush, Frist will run up the red tape and send signals to big business that it's time to feast. So then we start seeing wages fall. Then layoffs as people can't afford to buy. More people on unemployment and food stamps. And then a downward spiral of even more layoffs and finally, businesses closing or leaving the state. Tennessee will be left with a trashed bond rating, deficits, lost industries, and no hope that investors will come here anytime soon.That's what Trickle Down Economics does kiddies, it trickles onto you and me, leaving us all wet. And Frist - like Bush - supports it all 100% from his new mansion while he counts his stock options.Meanwhile, while Tennessee crashed and burned, Frist would be shouting from the Statehouse that somehow, it was all the fault of "The Liberals". And Gill, Valentine, Hobbs, and idgaf will applaud with religious-like fervor.Running a state isn't like running a business and it's not like talkin' shit on cable channels to save your ass. It's about experience, intelligence, and doing well by your fellow citizens. Bill Frist has never demonstrated any of these traits, and he sure as hell won't start if you idiots try to elect him.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

They tried to annoint him as president what makes the fools think they can annoint him as governor any easier?Time for a woman to clean out this cesspool.

By: Idahoser on 12/31/69 at 6:00

You guys are going to have to quit using "RINO". When the party means socialism, socialists aren't just "in name only

By: Anna3 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Bill Frist will make a great Gov.however, a great deal can happen between now and 2010.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Spoken like someone who thought Eric Crafton should participate in the education of our children.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

If we use the White House as a guide, Republicanism is budget busting spending, nation building, reinterpreting the Constitution for their puposes, unilateral legislating...the only area where they are 'conservative' is in paying lip service to the mantra of intolerance and robbing from the poor to pay the rich.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Good one, revo-lou. Harold Jr. could beat anybody from the "R" side. But the Dem bench isn't very deep. The "R" bench is full of people with name recognition. Although several have it as a result of losing elections like Bryant, making dimwitted observations like Marsha or, in Van's case, both of the above.

By: revo-lou on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Yeah, I am still waiting for tv to get back with me on that one. I have yet to figure out why the governor seems be the Democrats stronghold, yet the US Senate stays Republican.

By: tv8527 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Harold J.R couldn't even beat that idiot Corker how is he going to fair against a real challenger.