Although Tennessee’s next gubernatorial election is more than two years away, Gov. Bill Lee said Thursday he would seek a second term.
Speaking to reporters at his weekly COVID-19 media briefing, Lee confirmed he intended to run for reelection in 2022.
“I love this job,” the governor said, cracking a smile. “It’s been a big challenge but I love serving Tennesseans and I intend to do that as long they’ll let me.”
Pressed further about his plans to seek reelection, Lee said, “Yes.”
The governor’s intentions for 2022 come as other potential Republican candidates have quietly bolstered their personal profiles.
Although no GOP candidates have explicitly shown interest in succeeding or challenging Lee in a primary, observers have noted their activity.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, has spent months traveling the state, meeting with local groups while supporting incumbent GOP lawmakers. Chip Saltsman, who ran Randy Boyd’s unsuccessful 2018 campaign, is one of Sexton’s closest supporters and advisors.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs has weighed in on national and state issues, making him another potential future gubernatorial contender who has a high profile in part due to his wrestling career. Although it’s hardly a barometer of name recognition or support, Jacobs has significantly more Twitter followers than Lee
Other potential future GOP gubernatorial candidates include U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn; U.S. Rep. Mark Green, who briefly ran for the post in 2018; Stuart McWhorter, who served in Lee’s cabinet before stepping down in May for a job in the private sector; and U.S. Senate GOP nominee Bill Hagerty.
To some, Lee’s reelection is hardly surprising. Every Tennessee governor since Lamar Alexander was in office in the late 1970s and 1980s has successfully run for reelection.
But the pep Lee exuded during his early days in office has dissipated some as he’s faced months of difficult decisions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the March tornadoes and occasional bouts with state lawmakers.
Lee noted Thursday was the six-month anniversary since the deadly tornadoes touched down in Middle Tennessee, which was quickly followed by the state’s first case of COVID-19.
“Uncertain times, though, bring out the very best of people and we have certainly seen that in our state,” he said. “Tennessee has done it with a spirit of resilience … even in the age of social distancing, we didn’t let distance keep us from serving our neighbors.”
The last Tennessee governor to not seek a second term was Gov. Ray Blanton, who left office early amid scandal.
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Reach Joel Ebert at [email protected] or 615-772-1681 and on Twitter @joelebert29.