Memphis getting general election preview today?

Richard Locker lets us know that Memphis and Shelby County will be entertaining visits from gubernatorial candidates today -- Democratic businessman Mike McWherter and Republican Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. McWherter, son of former two-term Tennessee governor (and longtime powerful House speaker) Ned McWherter, will be his party's nominee, though Haslam of course is in the midst of a tough battle for the Republican nomination with U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and Ron Ramsey, the Tennessee Senate Speaker.

McWherter plans to speak at the Benjamin Hooks Library at 11:30, then "work" at Neely's Interstate BBQ at 2265 South Third in Memphis as part of his "Mike Works!" campaign theme.

Haslam plans a full day speaking to and meeting votes in the Memphis suburbs, followed by a tour of LeBonheur Children's Medical Center. Haslam's schedule is: 8-8:40 a.m., speak and meet at Sterling Place, Walker Spring Drive in Lakeland; 8:45-9:45 a.m., speak and meet at Old Timers Cafe, 7918 C Street, Millington; 10-11 a.m. speak and meet at Harlow's Donuts, 5055 Airline Road, Arlington; 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. speak and meet at Fresh Slices, 6600 Stage Road, Bartlett; 4-5:45 p.m. tour LeBonheur Children's Medical Center, be interviewed by a child patient and meet employees.

What makes these concurrent visits most interesting is that polls have shown Haslam growing in popularity and building his lead as the campaign and his advertisements capture the attention of the wider swath of mainstream Republican voters. Haslam, Wamp and Ramsey all make much of this loooong campaign -- it really started in earnest in Jan. 2009 -- but until late spring, the conventional public wasn't watching closely. For Wamp and Ramsey, an optimistic (but not unrealistic) view would suggest that Haslam's huge edge in money has helped him reach voters, but now as the campaign winds toward the Aug. 5 finish line (not to mention the July 16 end of early voting), they can still be persuaded that they, and not Haslam, will be more reliably conservative, if elected. The unasked question in a primary, however, is whether primary voters care more about red-meat conservative legislative priorities than they may about sizing up a candidate's executive and managerial abilities.

McWherter's campaign is already throwing some criticism at Haslam, before the primary, which either suggests the campaign assumes Haslam is going to be the nominee or that the campaign might rather face Wamp or Ramsey. Or, perhaps, it's as simple as McWherter wanting the Republican battle to be as bruising and expensive as possible.

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