It's hard not to wonder what the Mike McWherter campaign made of Wharton, maybe the most popular and respected Democrat in the area, agreeing to be a part of a tour that at its heart is part of Haslam's political strategy?
The first thing to say -- Haslam is, after all, the mayor of Knoxville and Wharton has known him for many years. It's also true that, win or lose, Wharton knows that keeping a strong relationship with Haslam (and the Haslam family AND key supporters of Haslam like Brad Martin and Allen Morgan) is in the best interest of Memphis. Of course, Haslam's huge lead in the one poll taken since the general election makes them seem even more vital.
The second thing to say -- Wharton endorsed McWherter (after first endorsing Jim Kyle, who subsequently dropped out).
Still, it was hard not to find significant the image of Memphis's very popular Democratic mayor standing alongside the Republican nominee for governor, inside the mayor's offices on the 7th floor of City Hall, with TV cameras rolling. That would be quite a show of hospitality for a campaigning gubernatorial candidate of Wharton's own party, much less the Republican nominee who came out strong in the primary against illegal immigration, for less restrictive gun laws and against federal health-care reform so popular with Democrats.
"It's not the first time in my career," Wharton said when I asked him, meaning he has done bipartisan appearances before. "I have no idea who is going to win and certainly, Mayor Haslam was by no means presumptious. The kind of discussions we had, even if he were to say, 'I can't go for this,' these are the kinds of discussions we ought to have across the state of Tennessee. Without getting into any questions of endorsement, that issue doesn't come up at all. This is what's good for this state, regardless of who is in the governor's seat. And that is what we discussed, challenges we face across this state but more importantly the opportunities we have across the state."
Shelby County Sheriff and county mayor-elect Mark Luttrell also met with Haslam and Wharton at City Hall and appeared with them for the cameras afterward.