Bill Haslam, Rick Snyder, and the Triumph of the Rich Moderate Republican

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 6 2010 9:40 AM

Bill Haslam, Rick Snyder, and the Triumph of the Rich Moderate Republican

Four years ago, two Tennessee conservatives with strong national support went head to head in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. They knocked each other out and allowed Bob Corker, a former mayor who was labeled the "moderate" of the race without doing much that was particularly moderate, to win with 48 percent of the vote.

This wouldn’t be very interesting if Tennessee Republicans didn’t just do the same thing . For months, Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey went at it, finding hotter and more intense ways to win over conservatives. Wamp would meet the feds "at the state line and protect our sovereignty!" Ramsey questioned the president’s citizenship and called Islam a cult! The result: They punched each other out and let Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam win with, well, 48 percent of the vote. It’s got to be a disappointment for Wamp, who predicted that people would "write books" about his toppling of Haslam.

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Basic electoral arithmetic works in other states, too. In Tuesday’s GOP gubernatorial primary in Michigan, investor and former Gateway CEO Rick Snyder won without a whole lot of conservative posing while the runners-up picked their wedge issues. Attorney General Mike Cox ran on his battle against Obamacare; Rep. Pete Hoekstra ran on that, and on his record as the most TV-happy Republican national security spokesman not named Pete King. (This sometimes cut against Hoekstra’s chances, as when he used the failed 2009 Christmas airline bomber as the hook for a fundraising pitch.)

Oh, worth noting: Haslam and Snyder wildly outspent their opponents. That might have helped.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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