"I know these campaigns are kind of goofy," Zach Wamp said, in probably the biggest understatement of the Tennessee governor's race.
Wamp was offering his closing statement in a debate before the Tennessee Education Association earlier this summer. "We think so too," he continued. "This is the silly season. From here on, people say things they don't even believe about each other, and then one person wins."
It was nice of Wamp to warn us. But how could anyone predict it would get this goofy? This campaign seems ripped straight from the pages of the Weekly World News. Before mercifully ending this week, it made Tennessee a national laughingstock.
Ron Ramsey grabbed headlines by saying freedom of religion doesn't necessarily apply to Islam because that actually might be a cult. Wamp, meanwhile, was creating his own furor by suggesting states might secede from the union if voters can't rein in that socialist federal government at the ballot box.
And just when you thought we'd reached the outer limits of crazy, it was all capped by the sudden rise of Basil Marceaux as an Internet sensation. The previously obscure fourth candidate in the Republican governor's race, Marceaux made a bizarre appearance on WSMV-Channel 4's evening news show in which he swayed on his feet as he stated his crackpot campaign's incoherent platform.
"Hi, I'm Basil Marceaux dot com," he began in a bit of web savvy marketing (except that's not his campaign's Internet address). Among his ideas:
• "Everyone carry guns. If you kill someone, though, you get murdered and go to jail."
• "Vote for me and if I win I will immune you from all state crimes for the rest of you life."
Marceaux's performance crackled across the Internet like a Paris Hilton sex video, and a star was born. The YouTube video was all over cable TV last week — on The Colbert Report and repeatedly on MSNBC — and Marceaux even made a trip to Hollywood to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Like his three rivals in the GOP primary, Marceaux didn't seem to care that he's the butt of jokes. Unintentionally, he was satirizing this entire preposterous campaign — a point that Wamp proceeded to underscore by descending into a state of true paranoia as his electoral prospects dwindled.
Wamp accused the frontrunner, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, of planting an anti-Wamp editorial in the Wall Street Journal. And Wamp's secession talk? In the World According to Wamp, that was all taken out of context after Haslam somehow cast a spell over the reporter who wrote the story for a national publication.
What's more, Wamp said Haslam is a puppet candidate for his father Jim and his brother Jimmy, who runs the family's Pilot gas stations, and they are scheming to impose the dreaded state income tax in Tennessee.
"The bottom line is he's a weak leader and as a result he is whichever way the wind blows," Wamp said. "And Big Jim and Jimmy are going to run the state. And that's the fear that people have all across the state ... a great fear that he will never be governor because his dad has run the empire, his big brother now runs the empire, and there's a fear of what that means ... because of the state income tax."
Wamp's hysterics were hilarious to the Haslam campaign: "We always knew he'd come unraveled, we just thought it would be sooner," campaign guru Tom Ingram said.
At a stop in Dickson as Haslam toured with University of Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl, the mayor was asked to respond to Wamp. Laughing, Haslam offered proof that he's not a daddy's boy. He said his father has demanded that the mayor's office fix a mud puddle in front of Big Jim's church. Big Jim's wife is getting her feet wet on rainy Sunday mornings. But according to Haslam, the mud puddle remains.
"Our engineering department says it wasn't as easy to fix as he thought," Haslam said. "We still haven't fixed it."
Big Jim, too, scoffed at Wamp's claims. "I'm 80 years old," he said. "I don't want to run anything."
As they boarded their red campaign bus for the next stop, Bill and Big Jim still were laughing about it all.
"I'm supposed to have so much power and I can't get a mud puddle fixed in front of my church," Big Jim said.
"We can get you an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, though," Bill deadpanned.