by Steven Hale
"The fact of the matter is, we're not gonna solve the problems that are going on in Washington D.C. sending the same people back who caused the mess in the first place."
With that, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Terry Adams introduced himself to reporters at the state capitol Friday, as he attempts to position himself as the true outsider and a fresher breath of air than either incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander or his Tea Party challenger, state Rep. Joe Carr.
Despite Democratic efforts to find a bigger name for the statewide ticket, it looks increasingly likely that Adams will be the only legitimate standard-bearer available to Democrats in the August primary. While that may not be the best case scenario for a nearly extinct party that has repeatedly hit rock bottom only to find out it has further to fall, it would be an improvement over the disavowed candidacy of Mark Clayton in 2012.
That episode brought such shame to the party — on a national scale — that Adams says it informed his decision to get in this year's race.
"We never, ever, ever can allow that to happen again," Adams says.
Asked if he voted for Clayton — a conspiracy theorist whose unique brand of kooky earned him the title of 2012's worst candidate from The Washington Post — Adams is less sure.
"That's a good question, I don't remember," he says.
A Knoxville attorney, small business owner and Navy veteran who grew up on Murfreesboro Road (his mother was a Nashville songwriter who wrote the song "Cry, Cry, Cry" for Connie Smith), Adams primary argument against Alexander — Tennessee's senior senator and former two-term governor — is his status as a "career politician" (although Adams says he doesn't think he'll make any sort of pledge regarding how long he would serve if elected himself).
"I dislike, in general, career politicians, to be completely honest with you," he says. "I don't think that is what was intended by the framers, number one, and number two, I don't know how you represent people you don't know. If you've done nothing but be in elected office your entire life you don't know what it's like to make a payroll, you don't know what it's like to run a business, you don't know what employees go through or employers go through on a general basis."
He's never run for office before, himself, but he says that's one of his strengths as a candidate.
"We've got a long history in Tennessee of electing people statewide who have never run for office," he says. "Jim Sasser had never run for office when he was elected to the U.S. Senate, Bill Frist had never actually cast a vote for anything when he was elected for the U.S. Senate. Tennesseans like Washington outsiders and I'm telling you right now, you're looking at one."
There's no doubt that outsider status can help a candidate in an era where Washington, D.C., is Americans' favorite place to hate, but having a "D" next to one's name has been problematic for candidates in Tennessee in the Obama era. In a state that has seen candidates squirm in the face of questions about their party affiliation and connection to the president, Adams did not run away from the Democratic label.
"'Cause I am a Democrat," he says, when asked why he was running as one. "There's something fundamental in my notion of what public service ought to be and how our economy ought to be run. The simple fact of the matter is I don't believe in any sort of trickle-down economics. I don't think it works. I think that just as a point of fact when you bring people up out of poverty in the middle class, and you grow the middle class, you grow the economy. You have more people that can spend money in small businesses, and that's just the fundamental difference from the Republican party that I see."
He says he isn't worried about avoiding that label — although the word "Democrat" is nowhere to be found on his website — or afraid of the Obama effect.
"I'm not running for president, so I'm not really worried about President Obama or whatever shadow he might cast," he says. "This is about Tennessee, this is about Tennesseans, this is about a Tennessee Democrat. We've got seven mayors in the seven largest cities of this state that are Democrats. Democrats aren't ostracized as some folks think they are."
When candidates' 4th quarter financial disclosures are made public, Adams says he estimates his will show about $25,000 in contributions to his campaign. But the plan all along, he says, has been to start "aggressively fundraising" this month.
"We're in it for the long haul," he says. "I can tell you this, I'm going absolutely no where. I'm in this campaign until Nov. 4 and then hopefully, if we do all the right things and the majority of Tennesseans agree with me, I'll wake up on Nov. 5 and be a United States Senator."