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Haslam's fun could end Wednesday

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Bill Haslam doesn't talk about it much, but he has to think about it a lot.

Wednesday morning.

If Wednesday morning finds Haslam, the mayor of Knoxville, elected as Tennessee's next governor, as polls strongly indicate he will be, after two years of seeking office, time will be short before his inauguration in January.

"If I win Nov. 2, on Nov. 3 in the a.m. we're going to get up and start to pull together the very best team you can to help run the state," Haslam said, adding that the transition period is an underrated part of the process.

"Nobody talks about it much, but that's the most critical thing a governor will do is hire that team of people to help them."

It would be a sobering wakeup call after a boisterous campaign. Haslam has clearly been enjoying campaigning the last few days, except for irritating questions about exactly what he meant about handgun carry permits. And who could blame him for feeling the wind at his back? The most recent public poll of the governor's race, done by Nashville's WSMV-TV, shows Haslam ahead 57%-28%, with 14% undecided.

It's an odd sort of ritual in politics that if you're far ahead in the polls you campaign like you're one vote behind, and if you're way behind in the polls you make sure everyone knows you're going to win.

But the consistent distance between the Republican Haslam and his Democratic opponent, Mike McWherter, would indicate Haslam and his support team at least should be thinking about the post-election process.

And that's no walk in the park, given everything Haslam has said in the campaign about the daunting task before the next governor.

"I'm not just saying it politically. I honestly think the next governor has a really difficult job," Haslam said.

So Haslam was asked about the prospect of going from a fun time to the bad news he's been talking about for two years.

"It is sobering," Haslam acknowledged. "The deeper you look into issues you realize the next governor is going to make a lot of hard decisions, but it's one of the good things about running for two years. You go into it with your eyes wide open."

Tom Ingram, general consultant to the Haslam campaign, expressed the same approach.

"The transition is an intense 90-day period," Ingram said. "Basically you do what you've done for the past two years for those 90 days, to put together your government and get off to the best start you can get off to."

Asked what his role in that process might be, Ingram replied, "Whatever I can do to help him."

Ingram would not be running a Haslam administration. He plans to return to his consulting business that includes The First Group in Washington and The Ingram Group in Nashville. The longtime aide and strategist for Sen. Lamar Alexander left his position as Alexander's chief of staff in 2009 to concentrate on Haslam's campaign. Ingram has helped the winning campaigns of Fred Thompson in 1994 and Bob Corker in 2006.

But he would still be involved in the Haslam transition.

"I don't want to do these past two years and just walk away," Ingram said. "If I can help him take the next step, which is that intense 90-day period of putting together a government, after that if I can help him be successful as a governor I will do whatever I can do -- in the context of my other life."

The concept of transitioning from campaign mode to governing mode is especially fascinating in the current gubernatorial race because of the candidacy of McWherter, who's father, Ned McWherter, famously said that after being sworn in all he would need is "four vanilla wafers and a cup of coffee" and he'd be ready to work.

Mike McWherter has made no such folksy vows in the campaign, but it was noticeable that on the day Gov. Phil Bredesen endorsed Mike McWherter, with Ned McWherter present for the event at Swett's restaurant in Nashville, a box of vanilla wafers were part of the program.

Mike McWherter's last name has not been the potent weapon some people believed it might be in the race. Whether McWherter hasn't been able to duplicate the adoration his father enjoyed across the state or whether the conservative Republican wave that is sweeping the country might mean there is nothing any Democratic nominee could do anyway may be open to debate. But if McWherter wins Tuesday, it would go down as one of the most stunning upsets in state history.

On the night of McWherter's victory in the Aug. 5 primary, as the march to Nov. 2 began, Ned McWherter said someone told him, "The winner loses."

The next governor will have plenty to worry about.

Mike McWherter has a busy campaign schedule Monday, including stops in Milan, Huntingdon, Dover, Clarksville, Nashville and Columbia. Haslam's Monday schedule includes events in Chattanooga, Memphis, Jackson and Brentwood.

McWherter will hold his election night bash at the Doubletree Hotel in Jackson, his hometown. Haslam's election night gathering will be at the Crowne Plaza in Knoxville, his hometown.

Ingram was asked if the Haslam campaign, which by all accounts has steamrolled its way along with a truckload of money and a wholesome theme, has gone the way he thought it would. And except for a short "Yep" he said, "I'd rather talk to you about that on Wednesday. I don't want to take anything for granted between now and Tuesday."

Ingram has a simple philosophy about a very complex challenge of running a campaign.

"You plan your work, and you work your plan," he says.

With election day near, Ingram was told it sure appears that the Haslam campaign has worked.

He said, "That's the point of the plan."

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