By Clint Confehr
Tennessee State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh has a path to victory in his campaign for governor, observers recently said on his campaign trail.
It may be a hopeful hypothesis, but Fitzhugh looks like a dark horse candidate, given conventional wisdom — that money is the mother’s milk of politics. So, the state representative from Ripley, Tenn., is seen as an unlikely winner in August.
Here’s why he can win. As a West Tennessee resident, Fitzhugh is likened to Ned Ray McWherter. While the former Democratic governor was a majority leader, they both worked in the state House of Representatives with politicians from all across Tennessee.
“I’ve worked with these guys for years,” Fitzhugh told Tamara King of Chapel Hill, vice president of Marshall County Democrats.
In Lewisburg’s Rock Creek Park, she asked about expanding Medicaid. Fitzhugh noted Gov. Bill Haslam couldn’t do it with the Republican’s super majority.
“If I … veto all 10 bills that come to my desk,” he said of the General Assembly’s next session if he’s governor, “maybe that would do it.”
That sounds like a tactic McWherter would use, and there’s another McWherter comparison.
Asked why he’s better than his opponent in the primary, Fitzhugh replied, “Because I can win the general election.” Why? Because he’s from a rural community, Fitzhugh said.
McWherter was and both are from West Tennessee. Understanding rural life is an advantage in East Tennessee Fitzhugh’s opponent, Karl Dean, was in headlines across Middle Tennessee, so he’s campaigned in Nashville, Lewisburg, Pulaski and Columbia “looking for name recognition in Middle Tennessee,” he said last Saturday.
Meanwhile, there’s talk of a political poll putting Fitzhugh within 5 percent of Dean. It may be a pollster’s leak, or spurious. Fitzhugh’s heard about the poll, says it’s not by his campaign, “but we feel movement” among voters who seem to accept his message.
Drilling down into state and local races, Fitzhugh says that last year, monthly county Democratic Party meetings had 5-10 people attending. “Now,” he said, “they have 40.”
And Fitzhugh’s been endorsed by the Tennessee state employees’ association, at least in-part because Haslam’s party is “trying to privatize things like the park here” in Marshall County, Fitzhugh said. Henry Horton State Park at Chapel Hill is just one example. It was failing to support itself. Liquor by the drink became available there more than a year ago.
The state Legislature’s Black Caucus has endorsed Fitzhugh “because they trust me to look after their interests,” he said, adding, various neighborhood groups in Nashville have endorsed him.
Judy Ruck of Lewisburg asked: Will Fitzhugh “be slamming everybody” in his ads? “No,” he replied. “I’ve never done that. I don’t have the money to do that and I like to stick to the facts.”
Among his reasons for voting for him: “It will be good to put balance in the state government.” Republicans have a super majority “and can’t get things done.” That pitch comes as a state example of a Congressional problem.