Democrats may need an actor to step up

Robert Houk • Mar 19, 2012 at 8:30 AM

A month or so ago I read a blog by Tom Humphrey, the Nashville bureau chief for the Knoxville News Sentinel, that noted country music star Tim McGraw could be interested in running for the U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee. Humphrey referenced a comment McGraw made a few years ago that indicated he might like to run for statewide office someday.

Back in 2009, I suggested McGraw throw his Stetson in the ring for governor in 2010. I wrote that “a McGraw candidacy would give the Democratic race for governor the luster it currently lacks. He’s a musical icon in Nashville. He pals around with famous people like Kenny Chesney and Billy Bob Thorton. And did I mention he’s married to Faith Hill?”

McGraw, of course, ignored my advice and stayed out of the race. Perhaps he did not want to end up like country music legend Roy Acuff, a Republican who lost bids for governor in 1944 and 1948.

Unlike Acuff, however, McGraw has another job that might give him an advantage in a political race. He’s also an actor. McGraw has turned in very respectable performances in successful Hollywood movies like “Friday Night Lights” and “The Blind Side.”

So maybe it’s not Acuff’s footsteps McGraw should consider following into politics. Maybe McGraw should follow the path blazed by former U.S. Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson, who has made a nice living acting in movies and TV before and after his stint in Washington.

I’m not sure how serious Democrats in Nashville are about recruiting McGraw for elected office, but there does seem to be a movement — at least among Democrats in Upper East Tennessee — to get an actor on the ballot this year. I’ve heard Greeneville native Park Overall is being urged by local Democrats to run for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. (Corker, by the way, has at least one challenger — Zach Poskevich of Hendersonville — for the Republican nomination.)

Overall, probably best known for role in TV’s “Empty Nest,” is also an environmental activist who keeps a close watch on the activities of Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin. I heard her name mentioned in 2010 as a possible candidate for the 1st District seat in Congress. Supporters then felt Overall’s celebrity status and county girl appeal would help her to raise money and gain backing in a race against U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City. They still do.

Of course, being a movie star alone is not enough to be successful in politics. It also takes a knowledge of the issues and a skill at campaigning that many candidates — celebrities included — learn far too late in a race that they lack.

Still, you can’t blame Democrats for wanting to recruit candidates who already have some name recognition with the voters. Lord knows Democrats have had a hard time finding candidates from other walks of life who fit that description.

If the Tennessee Democratic Party was a major league baseball team, you’d have to say it has a lousy farm system. It has few players in the minors ready to move up to the big leagues.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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