Frist decides against 2010 Tenn. gubernatorial bid - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Frist decides against 2010 Tenn. gubernatorial bid

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced Sunday he won't run for Tennessee governor in 2010 because it would require him to immediately curtail his education and health care commitments.

Frist, 56, said he will concentrate on teaching at Vanderbilt University, his global health initiatives and his private investment work. The Nashville Republican said he will also launch an initiative to improve K-12 education in Tennessee, though he declined to elaborate.

"If I had run, I would have started running next week," Frist told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he had gathered with his family to discuss his decision. "Having a two year campaign would mean I would have to move all those passions totally aside."

The decision clears the way for what is already shaping up to be a crowded field of Republican candidates for governor.

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and prosecutor Bill Gibbons of Memphis have already announced they would run if Frist remained out of the race. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville are also considering bids.

Frist, who said he won't endorse a candidate for at least another year, spoke with several prospective candidates Sunday afternoon to let them know his decision.

"I'm not totally surprised," said Haslam, who added that he will have an announcement on his plans later this week. "He obviously had a lot of options before him."

Ramsey said he's preoccupied with the General Assembly convening next week, and won't decide on a bid until near the end of the session.

"I don't want the fact that I would be running for governor overshadowing everything that happens in the Legislature, and have it become a political decision," he said.

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen can't run again because of term limits.

Democrats weighing a gubernatorial bid include former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis of Pall Mall and former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville.

Frist said his decision wasn't influenced by the economic troubles facing Tennessee and the country because he expects conditions to begin to rebound soon.

"I have huge confidence in Governor Bredesen and the steps he's taken now to scale down government to an appropriate level for the times in Tennessee," he said. "By the time the next governor takes office, he will have the state well positioned for growth."

"The first year in office will be very tough, but the next seven years after that I see continued economic growth for Tennessee," he said.

Frist was a heart surgeon before entering politics in 1994, and his 12 years in the Senate were marked by a speedy rise but an uncertain tenure at the peak. He was widely expected to make a 2008 presidential bid, but cited his close ties with the unpopular Bush administration for his decision in late 2006 not to run.

There were fewer concerns about his electoral prospects in a Tennessee race because of his statewide name recognition and formidable fundraising capacity.

"I felt comfortable that if I ran, that we'd be able to run a good race and be very competitive," he said. "I had an inherent advantage."

He also noted that Republicans in November gained control of both chambers of the state Legislature and that U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., won all but one of Tennessee's 95 counties in his re-election bid.

"Tennessee really stands out in terms of leaning Republican, unlike the rest of the country," he said.

Frist emphasized that he's not sitting out the governor's race with an eye toward another potential presidential bid.

"In the foreseeable future I say there is no elected office that I will seek," he said. "I have no presidential aspirations."            

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)      

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