NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gov. Phil Bredesen (search) said Tennessee is a "battleground state" in the presidential campaign while hosting a fund-raiser for the presumed Democratic ticket of John Kerry (search) and John Edwards (search), the same day President Bush toured nuclear facilities in Oak Ridge.
Despite recent polls showing President Bush holding a double-digit lead in the Volunteer State over Kerry, Bredesen on Monday said the president's frequent trips to Tennessee this year show his concern about the state.
Bush's visit to East Tennessee on Monday was his fifth this year to the state and 11th since he was elected president.
"That says to me that this is a battleground state," the Democratic governor said prior to a $500-a-person fund-raiser for Kerry held at the governor's mansion. "It is a state the White House thinks is in play. I hope Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards will feel the same."
Kerry visited Tennessee three times this year during the Democratic primary. He was represented at the Bredesen-hosted event by Bob Farmer, treasurer of his national campaign.
Farmer would not declare Tennessee a battleground state Monday. He said Tennessee was one of four Southern states the Kerry campaign has rated as prospects for toss-up status, including Arkansas, Louisiana and West Virginia.
"If the (poll) numbers justify it, this will be a big state," Farmer said. "We'll put substantial resources into that."
Farmer attended a similar fund-raiser in Memphis on Sunday night hosted by U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., a national co-chair of Kerry's campaign. The two events combined raised about $400,000 for the Kerry campaign, which had previously raised about $600,000 in Tennessee, Farmer said.
He said the national campaign had raised more than $100 million during the last 90 days, with $75 million of that donated over the Internet.
Bush raised $1.7 million at his last Tennessee fund-raiser, a May 27 event in Nashville with a $2,000-per-person basic charge, Republican officials said.
Bush's state chairman, Davis Kustoff, said the president has raised a total of about $6 million in Tennessee.
Bredesen, who stayed out of the Democratic primary process earlier this year and did not endorse a candidate, offered numerous reasons why Kerry would be a better president than Bush. He cited Kerry's emphasis on jobs as a strong point.
He also criticized Republican contentions that Kerry was "wrong for Tennessee" on taxes and gun control.
Bredesen noted that Kerry, like himself, is a hunter and gun owner.
"He is someone who would be perfectly comfortable for most Tennesseans on this issue," Bredesen said.
While Bredesen stumped for Kerry on Monday, Deputy Gov. Dave Cooley made it clear that politics closer to home is Bredesen's top priority.
"While he's clearly interested in helping the Kerry-Edwards ticket, that doesn't change that his primary focus is going to be on electing Democrats to the state House and Senate," said Cooley. "Those are the people who vote on his initiatives."