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McWherter on the attack as election arrives

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter, left, shares a laugh with former legislator and Tennessee secretary of state Riley Darnell in Clarksville on Monday.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter, left, shares a laugh with former legislator and Tennessee secretary of state Riley Darnell in Clarksville on Monday.

Democrat Mike McWherter on Monday declared Republican Bill Haslam has shown his incompetency to lead, that Haslam wants to add bureaucracy to government and that Haslam can't actually cut the state's budget the way he says he will.

And McWherter never even mentioned "Pilot Oil."

Tennessee will elect a new governor Tuesday, and McWherter laid out a list of reasons Monday why Haslam isn't up to the job. McWherter said he feels momentum heading his way, despite the fact the polls on the governor's race show Haslam will run away with it.

The strongest of McWherter's lines of attack on Monday regarded Haslam's comment recently to the Tennessee Firearms Association, when the Republican said if the legislature presented him a bill that did away with gun-carry permits he would sign the bill.

"I'll fight that," McWherter said. "I'll veto that. Bill Haslam says he's going to sign it. Frankly, I think it is a reckless position to take."

Haslam has spent time trying to clarify his position on the gun issue, saying he would oppose such legislation during the legislative process, and emphasizing he will urge the legislature to stick to topics like jobs and education, but he has handed McWherter an issue to use against him as the state goes to the polls to pick a successor to Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who is term-limited.

McWherter points to Bredesen's good track record, which has resulted in high approval ratings for the current governor, and says he represents continuity on Bredesen's management of state government while Haslam represents change.

McWherter, a beer distributor and son of former Gov. Ned McWherter, will have his election night event at the Doubletree Hotel in Jackson, his hometown. Haslam will be at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Knoxville, where he is mayor.

Aside from criticizing Haslam, however, McWherter spent time Monday pushing his jobs creation plan, a program based on tax cuts for small businesses that create jobs.

"It may sound like it's an upside-down race when you've got the Democrat talking about tax incentives and tax credits and the Republican talking about more government, but I really think we're on track with this," McWherter said.

His reference to Haslam growing the government pertains to Haslam's proposal to place economic development officers in various regions of the state to capitalize on needs specific to those regions. McWherter says that only adds more bureaucracy to state government. Haslam says that isn't so and that it only means people would not be stationed in Nashville but closer to the communities they would serve. McWherter says the state's economic development department is already using that concept.

But McWherter clearly believes he has the upper hand on Haslam about guns. He has seized on Haslam's comment to the gun group as an irresponsible thing to say.

"Frankly, I think Bill Haslam has raised an issue about his own competency to lead through this gun issue, and I think it has changed a lot of minds about exactly who needs to be the next governor of this state," McWherter said.

He also takes issue with Haslam's budget approach, including the size of the budget problem.

"I think he has raised a lot of issues when he says he's going to cut a billion and a half dollars out of the budget and he won't tell the people of Tennessee where he is going to do that," McWherter said. "He says it's a 'thousand little cuts.' Well, you're going to have to have a lot of thousands to get to a billion and a half dollars, and it raises a competency level issue.

"I've said all along I'm going to follow the roadmap Governor Bredesen has laid out. He's had a roadmap for this budget and the upcoming budget laid out for the next governor. I represent continuity. Bill Haslam represents change. Out of his own mouth he says he is going to be cutting a billion and a half dollars out of that budget. I hope the people in Tennessee realize what he's talking about, and I'm talking about continuity."

Haslam has repeatedly said the state is facing a loss of $1.5 billion because of federal stimulus funds going away. McWherter says Haslam is overstating the problem and that the blueprint Bredesen is leaving will alleviate much of the burden of losing stimulus money.

And then there has been the matter of Haslam's personal money. As a member of the family that owns Pilot Corp., which operates a string of truck stops and convenience stores, Haslam is wealthy. The exact level of wealth has been subject to speculation, because Haslam has not revealed his personal income from Pilot, an issue that has created a controversy of its own in the campaign. Opponents say Haslam should be more transparent about his finances. Haslam has revealed income from his other investments.

"It's clear if Bill Haslam were to win, money was his biggest asset, because certainly it wasn't his positions," McWherter said. "I don't think his positions have at all appealed to the voters in Tennessee.

"For me, I don't think money is going to play that big of a factor. For him, I think clearly it has made him a candidate."

McWherter has trailed Haslam substantially in fund-raising, but he said Monday he believes his funds have been enough to win the race.

"I think we've done a very good job of getting our message out," McWherter said. "I frankly think we timed the peak in this campaign close to being right. We needed to peak a few days before early voting started, and I believe that's when we did. I think Bill Haslam peaked sometime back in September."

McWherter said "retail campaigning" will serve him well Tuesday.

"I really think when it's all said and done that the margins I'll get in the rural areas are the ones that will really tell. I think I'll be fine in the urban areas, but I've really worked hard to build my margins in rural areas across the state," he said.


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