Mike McWherter’s campaign took the blame Monday for his bleak, fourth-place showing in a straw poll of Democratic candidates for governor.
“We just didn’t do our staff work on this one,” campaign manager Kim Sasser Hayden admitted. But she insisted, "I still feel that Mike is the frontrunner, and he’s the one to beat."
McWherter, seen by some observers as the strongest Democrat in the race, won only 32 votes in the contest Saturday at Murfreesboro. The winner was Roy Herron with 119 votes followed by Jim Kyle with 81 and Kim McMillan with 58. Only Ward Cammack, a little known businessman who got only 13 votes, finished worse than McWherter.
The straw poll was held by the Rutherford County Democratic Party, which touted the results as an early indication of strength in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
"I think the election results reflect our hard work,” Herron said. “I am humbled, grateful, and inspired to work harder than ever. This strong victory shows we can win."
Supporters of candidates bought $50 tickets for the right to vote in the straw poll. But by fire marshal’s order, only 390 tickets were sold, the capacity of the MTSU ballroom where the event was held. Tickets were sold out a week beforehand, with Herron’s supporters gobbling up most of them.
Jonathan Fagan, the Rutherford County party chair, said all the campaigns knew the rules. He said he hopes the straw poll will make Rutherford County “the Iowa of Tennessee,” a reference to the first-in-the-nation Iowa presidential caucuses.
“The results of this straw poll show who has the energy and the organization, the communication skills and the fire to win this nomination,” Fagan said. “The campaigns that lost can make excuses but, at the end of the day, it’s all about who took it seriously and got in early. That’s what’s it’s going to take to win the straw poll and that’s what it’s going to take to win the nomination. All else is just excuses, excuses, excuses.”
But few voters are paying attention to the race at this early stage, and Hayden said the results won’t hurt McWherter’s campaign, even among contributors and other insiders.
“This stuff happens all the time with these straw polls,” she said, “and I don’t think they are accurate perceptions of where campaigns are and certainly not where the electorate is. This was a failure of staff work, not a failure of what people think about Mike."