A Knoxville Democrat is trying to sew up support for his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, nearly eight months before voters choose the party's nominee.
Terry Adams, an attorney and the owner of a title company, kicked off his campaign Friday with a press conference at the state Capitol, in an effort to place himself at the front of the Democratic field before it has crystallized.
Adams, 43, said he had secured support from the current and four prior heads of the Tennessee Democratic Party and announced he had begun raising money for his campaign. He attacked Alexander as a career politician who has lost the support of most Tennesseans.
"We're not going to solve the problems that are going on in Washington, D.C., sending the same people back who caused the mess in the first place," Adams said.
The backing for Adams is unusual so early in an open primary. At least one other person, Nashville counseling company executive Larry Crim, has declared plans to seek the nomination, and others may enter the race before the April 3 filing deadline.
But Adams' support signals that Democrats hope to avoid a recurrence of their disastrous 2012 Senate campaign, in which they failed to field a credible challenger to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.
In that race, senior Democrats initially backed Park Overall, a former sitcom actress, but when she did not campaign, the nomination instead went to Mark Clayton, an unknown flooring installer from Nashville. Citing Clayton's ties to an organization that had been called a hate group for its anti-gay rhetoric, the Tennessee Democratic Party refused to support his nomination.
They urged Democratic voters to write in a candidate of their choosing -- any candidate. Crim, who ran in the race as well, sued the party over the nomination, arguing that Clayton won only because his name appeared first on the ballot, which was ordered alphabetically.
Adams is all but certain to see his name appear first on the 2014 primary ballot. His qualifications also include eight years in the Navy Reserve, where he was a quartermaster, and experience working on campaigns since his undergraduate days at the University of Tennessee, where he led a campus Democratic organization.
A Nashville native, Adams said his mother, Shirley Wood, wrote the song "Cry, Cry, Cry," made popular by Connie Smith. But Adams said he grew up in modest circumstances, joining the Navy while still a student at Glencliff High School mainly so he could earn money for college.
Chip Forrester, the chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party in 2012, said he is convinced Adams will mount a serious campaign. He signed a fundraising letter backing his candidacy.
"We can't control what happens at the ballot box," Forrester said, "but at least if we reach out to candidates that are viable, we stand a good chance."
Former Tennessee Democratic Party chairman Bob Tuke, who lost to Alexander in 2008, has been named his campaign treasurer. Current chairman Roy Herron also said he supports Adams' efforts.
"Terry Adams is a serious, strong candidate," Herron said. "At this point, I think Democrats from Mountain City to Memphis are supporting him, but if some other strong, serious candidate came forward, I'd support her or him as well."
Democrats are expected to be at a disadvantage in this year's midterm elections, but Adams said he was unconcerned about being associated with President Barack Obama. Adams stated displeasure with the Affordable Care Act, but he said he would work to improve it rather than repeal the law, if elected.
But Adams said voters are fatigued with Alexander. With Congress' popularity at record lows, two polls, including one released last month by Vanderbilt University, show Alexander's approval rating as having dipped below 50 percent, a level often thought of as indicating an incumbent candidate is vulnerable.
Adams starts the year with little money in his campaign account-- about $25,000, he estimated. But he said he had begun raising money only this month.
Alexander had more than $2.8 million in cash, as of Sept. 30. His campaign will begin airing a 60-second commercial statewide on Monday.
Adams' campaign might receive a boost if Alexander were to lose the GOP nomination to state Rep. Joe Carr, a Lascassas Republican who has launched a tea-party challenge to the senator. But he said he would stick the race out even against Alexander.
"We're in it for the long haul," he said. "I can tell you this: I'm going absolutely nowhere. I'm in this campaign until Nov. 4."