Associated Press - Duncan Mansfield
MARYVILLE — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has always liked to begin campaigns from his hometown, came home Tuesday to say he plans to run for re-election in 2008.
''While I'm not starting a campaign today, I wanted to make it clear to the people of Tennessee that I would be a candidate next year when the time comes,'' he said.
The revelation came during a breakfast meeting in a greenway park pavilion with about 50 local officials, sponsored by the Blount County Republican Women.
Alexander said it was important to make his plans known in Maryville, where his family has lived since the 1820s.
''It is my home. It's where I'm coming from,'' he said of the community in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains south of Knoxville.
The former governor, U.S. education secretary and university president is completing his first term in the Senate.
Susan Williams of Knoxville, a longtime supporter and former state Republican chairwoman, was one of those attending the breakfast who was surprised at the timing, but not the content of the announcement.
''Clearly, we all want him to run, and I am glad he is running again. He has been good for Tennessee,'' she said, adding that she expects he will face little opposition.
''Lamar has always enjoyed really broad support from Republicans and independents, and quite frankly, he has had some good Democratic support in the past. I think he will be re-elected.''
Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham, a former U.S. attorney and boyhood friend of Alexander, introduced him by saying, ''The cream always rises to the top. We have so much pride that he is a native son.''
Washington needs some people up there who are ''...willing to work across party lines on big problems,'' Alexander said. ''I know how to do that and I'm willing to do it.''
He specifically cited war on terrorism, the war in Iraq, government spending and the need for affordable health insurance for everyone.
''Those are problems that one party or the other can't solve,'' he said.
Alexander said he hopes to continue pressing for bipartisan solutions, as he did when he was a Republican governor working with a Democratic legislature.
''So that's why I want to run. I think I can make a real contribution,'' he said.
Alexander hasn't officially launched his campaign, but a 5-minute campaign video was to be posted on the Web Tuesday. Later in the day, Alexander, an accomplished pianist, was going to rehearse with singer Patti Page in hopes she would agree to sing ''Tennessee Waltz'' at a Wednesday fundraiser at Nashville's new symphony hall.
Just a few months ago, Alexander considered retiring after one term when he lost a bid to become Senate Republican whip, deputy to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
''After the whip race, we asked ourselves, 'Is it worth staying up here or should we go do something else?''' said Tom Ingram, Alexander's chief of staff. ''And he came to the conclusion that there is still plenty to do and he can do it from the role of an independent-minded senator.''
Alexander has been particularly pleased by the response he and Sen Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have received in hosting regular bipartisan breakfasts with Senate colleagues to discuss major issues. Up to 40 senators at time have attended.
Meanwhile, McConnell mitigated the whip loss by appointing Alexander to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Appropriations Committee.
The panels carry clout and responsibility over issues in which Alexander has keen interest, including clean-air legislation, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The appointments reflected Alexander's ''extraordinary contribution'' to the Senate, McConnell said at the time, and were intended ''to make it possible for him to be even more effective during his next term.''
Sources said McConnell wanted to avoid spending GOP resources in Tennessee in 2008, two years after Republican Bob Corker's expensive victory over Democrat Harold Ford for the seat of retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Ingram said Alexander, who will turn 67 on July 3, isn't ready to retire. ''He is still very healthy, very active,'' Ingram said, and he likes the physical and mental stimulation of Washington. ''And, I don't know, he is not the kind of guy that would sit on a porch and rock.''
Alexander left a teaching engagement at Havard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2001 to run for the Senate seat vacated by Republican Fred Thompson. He beat former U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant in the GOP primary and former U.S. Rep. Bob Clement, a Democrat, in the general election.
After his election, Alexander resigned from the boards of nearly 20 corporate and nonprofit organizations to avoid conflicts of interest.
A protege of former Sen. Howard Baker Jr., Alexander was a two-term governor of Tennessee, 1979-1986; president of the University of Tennessee, 1988-1990; and President George H.W. Bush's secretary of education, 1990-1993. He ran for president in 1996 and 2000.