Bryant says race to senate seat is now a 'dead heat'

By Julie Fann
S
tar Staff
jfann@starhq.com
  

  
With just two weeks left before the primary election, Rep. Ed Bryant is confident the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Fred Thompson will soon be his. On a tour to secure final votes in Carter County, Bryant said he isn't worried at all about competitor Lamar Alexander.
   "The trends are good. We're going up, and he's going down, and we think it's a dead heat actually. We think it's gotten to that point, and whoever wins these next few days is going to win this election," Bryant said during the Carter County Republican Women's annual picnic Saturday afternoon.
   Scattered showers didn't stop the event, which drew approximately 150 Republicans from across the county, including local candidates opposing one another in the upcoming election, from Jerome Cochran and Kevin Cole to Jim Henson and Ken Potter.
   "We have a more exciting picnic going on this year, I think, since we have so many Republicans running for the same office," said CCRW President Jan Showalter. "Rain didn't stop people from coming, either."
   Bryant said the contentious debate going on between himself and Alexander has tremendously helped his campaign not so much in East Tennessee but in the middle and west regions of the state.
   "Having a lot of talk about this race is going to help our campaign, particularly Shelby county, by stirring up Republicans there to get out and vote," Bryant said, referring to himself as a "solid" conservative who, day in and day out in Washington, votes conservatively.
   Concerning the campaign battles that revolve around his own past in Nashville and that of Alexander, Bryant said leadership needs to look toward the future and not back over the past 20 years. He spoke also of how much the Republican party has grown during that time, now having large turnouts at campaign events versus the old "telephone booth" meetings.
   "Now, I go to Lincoln Day dinners, and you have cafeterias full of people. The party has changed and has gotten back to its truer philosophy which is conservative," he said.
   Bryant heralded his past eight years as a House Representative in Washington as proof that he would be the best man to serve in the Senate. "I've been a legislator. I'm a veteran, and I have been with President Bush, and the two years he's been up there I voted with him 98 percent of the time," he said.
   Bryant's proudest achievements are voting for the past balanced budget, welfare reform, and tougher immigration laws. He also touted having been House manager during the Clinton impeachment hearings. "I was part of the group of managers who went over to the Senate and pursued that impeachment process," he said.
   The most pressing and important issue Bryant said he has worked to support is de-regulation of the TVA. He referred to the development of a "consensus language" between the company and its competitors, a language he said would "bring down the fence", improving competition on the wholesale level.
   "I'm not necessarily a fan of de-regulation; I'm not necessarily for it, but I have been thrust into the position of having to do something because I'm on the committee that has jurisdiction," he said. Bryant is a member of the Commerce Committee, a group of lawmakers who deal with issues surrounding business and industry.
   Concerning "hot button" topics related to de-regulation such as the energy crisis in California and recent events surrounding Enron and Worldcom, Bryant said they were not good examples. "Certainly, Enron has violated the law, and they are crooks who should and will go to jail over that," he said.
   Bryant helped write a prescription drug bill for senior citizens that would spend $350 billion over 10 years and hopefully bring in competition that would result in deep discounts. However, during an election year, he said, finalizing a bill is tough.
   "There's a lot of bidding back and forth over who can top the other one in the eyes of the voters, but we've got to exercise fiscal restraint to get back on our balanced budget," he said.
   Bryant's final topic of discussion was "Lamar fatigue," an affliction that happens to voters due to the passing of time and the desire for change.
   "It's time for Tennessee to move on. This race has been divisive for our party. Whoever is elected governor and senator has to work with Bill Frist and pull this party back together and get beyond this tax debate in Nashville," he said.