NASHVILLE -- Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey went on the attack against his opponent for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, this afternoon - essentially calling him a moderate disguised as a conservative.
As has become the norm in this year's gubernatorial race, the attack did not issue directly from the candidate's own mouth at a public event where he could theoretically be challenged or at least pressed for supporting details, but rather by a media communiqué issued by the campaign, "Team Ron Ramsey."
In the statement, Ramsey charges that "He (Haslam) counts liberals such as environmental crusader Al Gore and Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper as supporters. He has actively and financially supported both of them. He's helped lead one of the country's most radical gun control groups - Bloomberg's Mayors Against Guns - until 2008 when it became politically expedient to withdraw from said group. Regardless of his millions of dollars spent on ads that say nothing, Tennesseans are smart enough to see through his fluffy commercials and realize he's not the 'real deal' at all."
Ramsey's communications director, Rachel Taylor, did not respond to requests for details on its claim that Gore and Cooper - both Tennessee Democrats - support Haslam, a Republican. Unlike Haslam, Wamp and Democratic candidate Mike McWherter, the Ramsey camp has not released a public campaign schedule for this week and there were not listings under "Events" on the campaign website, where it scheduled campaign stops by the candidate are usually listed.
Haslam did resign from an organization of mayors created by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to combat gun crime, after he says that it strayed from its original mission toward advocating more restrictions on guns.
In today's press statement, Ramsey also cited an "endorsement" of Haslam by a liberal Knoxville political blog, knoxviews.com.
"When liberal rags are publicly choosing Mayor Haslam as their best hope for August 5th, alarm bells should be ringing for our state's conservative voters," said Ramsey.
UPDATE: Taylor responded Tuesday night and it turns out that that the charge that Haslam counts Gore and Cooper as supporters is not quite what they meant.
"We know he's been on their team. Haslam has endorsed them. That's all we meant. Haslam has - on record - actively donated financially to Gore (1988) and Rep. Cooper (2002). That's what he has to explain. Why did Haslam support liberal Democrats financially?" Taylor said.
So let's see: the donation to Gore was 22 years ago, either when the "liberal Democrat" was making his first unsuccessful run for President as a moderate, or when he was gearing up for his 1990 U.S. Senate re-election campaign - the year the GOP didn't really put up a candidate and William R. Hawkins (remember him?) served himself up as the party's nominee and lost to Gore 233,324 votes to 529,914 and carried not a single county out of 95?
The Haslam camp weighed in on the attack, almost gleefully noting that the knoxviews "endorsement" was intended humor.
"Of course Senator Ramsey doesn't like our ad because it points out that Mayor Haslam is the only candidate with executive experience," said Haslam spokesman David Smith. "If that wasn't embarrassing enough for the state senator, giving credence to an obscure liberal blog that is clearly making fun of Republicans represents a new low."
Finally, Ramsey has added plans for at least one public campaign appearance this week: a stop at the Davidson County GOP picnic Saturday.
* * *
The other Republican in the gubernatorial primary, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga, brings his campaign back to the Memphis area Wednesday:
* 7:30 a.m. -- Meet and greet Tipton County Republicans at Coffee in the Attic, 112 Court Square East, Covington.
* Morning -- Campaign meetings in Shelby County, including The Commercial Appeal editorial board.
* 12:15 p.m. -- Meet and greet Fayette County Republicans, Wood Bridge General Store, 111 West Court Square, Somerville.
* 2:15 p.m. -- Speak to Fayette and Shelby County Homebuilders Association, at Somerville Bank & Trust, 16790 Highway 64, Somerville.