Governors: Uneasy Leads for Southern Republican Frontrunners

Poor Henry IV -- the guy really needed some Ambien. But, because he couldn't fall asleep, he uttered a famous phrase: "Uneasy lies ...
by | March 1, 2010

Poor Henry IV -- the guy really needed some Ambien. But, because he couldn't fall asleep, he uttered a famous phrase: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

While Henry IV (or Shakespeare, if you prefer) was talking about politics in 15th century England, he might just as easily have been discussing Republican frontrunners in three Southern gubernatorial primaries this year.

Bill Haslam in Tennessee, John Oxendine in Georgia and Bradley Byrne in Alabama all have long been favored as Republican nominees. Since Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama are conservative states, all were and are pretty good bets to be elected in November. As a result, they're facing a disproportionate share of scrutiny both from their foes and the media.

No one is getting rougher treatment than Haslam, who is Knoxville's mayor and a millionaire businessman. First, Haslam was getting pummeled from the right on guns. He faced criticism for joining Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns and for supporting a ban on guns in city parks.

Lately, Haslam's rivals (Zach Wamp, Ron Ramsey and Bill Gibbons) have knocked him for raising taxes and failing to release his full tax returns. His opponents don't seem to realize they're running against anyone other than the Knoxville mayor -- all of their attention is focused on him.

For Oxendine, the focus has been on his work as Georgia Insurance Commissioner. Thanks to some digging by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oxendine has been dogged by allegations that he's too cozy with the industries he's supposed to be regulating. He's been criticized for accepting campaign cash from those industries.

Byrne, the former head of Alabama's community college system, committed political blasphemy (or at least what's regarded as blasphemy in some circles) by saying that some parts of the Bible aren't literally true. He claimed his words were taken out of context, but his rivals pounced.

Before getting too down on Haslam, Oxendine and Byrne, however, it's worth remembering that they each have tons of campaign cash. And, while these stories reflect the weaknesses of the three candidates, they also of course reflect their strength. Gubernatorial frontrunners -- like kings -- have a lot to worry about, but that never seems to stop anyone from wanting to switch places with them.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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