Governor Bill Haslam answers questions after a luncheon at Lipscomb University on Feb 6, 2013, in Nashville. / Dipti Vaidya / File / The Tennessean
By Paul C. Barton / Tennessean Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - When Republicans look for reasons to be
optimistic about future White House bids, they often focus on candidate
possibilities offered by their stable of attention-getting governors.
Jindal of Louisiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Chris Christie of
New Jersey and Mitch Daniels of Indiana almost always get a mention.
Now, some political analysts say, it may be time to add Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to the list.
latest talk about Haslam paints him as mixing a mild-mannered style
with achievements in areas long of vital interest to conservatives.
Those include reforms related to teacher tenure, charter schools, tort
law and the state's civil service system.
"He is someone who can
point to significant accomplishments," said Josh Kraushaar, who tracks
governors for the National Journal, a Washington-based public policy
magazine. If he were to show interest in a White House bid, he
"certainly would get attention," Kraushaar said.
Haslam's reputation as a "solutions-oriented conservative" is a key factor, Kraushaar said.
"He's getting some good press recently," added Jessica Taylor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a Washington-based newsletter.
"He's a conservative pragmatist."
tendency to focus more on economic and education matters instead of
controversial social issues bodes well for him, said David Avella,
president of GOPAC, an organization devoted to electing Republicans at
"I think there is a segment of the Republican Party that will find that very attractive," Avella said.
A matter of style
But the mild-mannered style of the 54-year-old governor - up for
re-election next year - could be both an asset and a problem should he
try to become more of a figure on the national stage, other analysts
"He is a solid conservative yet has the sort of likeable
persona and nonconfrontational approach that seem to be in short supply
today," said Mark Byrnes, political scientist at Middle Tennessee State University.
an 'establishment' Republican rather than a darling of the tea party
might also make him appealing for a party that needs to figure out how
to appeal to a broader swath of our diverse nation."
Similar pronouncements come from political observers nationwide.
"has a strong record of practical conservative governance," said John
Pitney, an expert on Republican politics at Claremont McKenna College in
"Unlike, say, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, he does
not have a record of eccentric statements that could scare off moderate
voters. Though he does not identify with the hard right, he would
probably be acceptable to most party conservatives.
"On the other
hand," Pitney said, "he has the BWG problem: Boring White Guy. If he's
not offensive, he may not be particularly exciting, either."
asked if he had any national aspirations, Haslam replied, "I can
honestly say I have no intention of running for a different office."
He said he is quite happy to be a governor and will definitely run for re-election in 2014.
"Being a governor is about fixing problems. That's why I do this."
Some political analysts, such as David Kanervo of Austin Peay State
University, said Haslam would be well-served by serving longer as a
governor. Haslam "still has some time to go to prove himself," he said.
Regarding whether Tennessee is experiencing dramatic job growth, Kanervo added, "I am not sure he can show that yet."
has added more than 190,000 jobs since Haslam took office, according to
the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the unemployment rate has dipped
from 10.5 percent to 7.6 percent in December 2012.
political strategist Matt Mackowiak said Haslam must show he has fire in
his belly before he can become credible on the national stage.
there will be no incumbent running for president in 2016, Mackowiak
said, "the field will be both strong and deep, and absent a national
profile or fundraising base, Gov. Haslam will be at a significant
disadvantage should he choose to run.
"But his record as governor is worth studying and replicating in other states."