- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) - State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh is seriously considering joining the race to succeed term-limited Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in 2018.

The Ripley Democrat told reporters this week that he would have appeal for voters from both urban and rural areas of the state.

“I’m hopeful I can bring those two factors together if I decide to run, and get some support going forward,” Fitzhugh said.

Fitzhugh has served in the state House since 1995 and was the longtime chairman powerful finance committee until Democrats lost control of the chamber. He was elected minority leader in 2010 and has been a vocal advocate for Medicaid expansion in Tennessee.

Fitzhugh said he would prefer to wait until after the upcoming legislative session to decide about entering the race, but that pending decisions by other potential candidates will likely shorten that timeline.

“We just got through with an election, you know; but here we are starting again,” Fitzhugh said. “I don’t think the public at large is ready for that, but I guess many those that might want to be candidates are.”

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has said he will decide whether to mount a Democratic bid during the first quarter of the year. Real estate developer Bill Freeman, who spent $3.5 million of his own money on an unsuccessful mayoral bid in Nashville in 2015, is also considering a Democratic bid.

Fitzhugh acknowledged that Dean and Freeman would be “totally formidable from a financial standpoint.”

“But I would run the same kind of campaign I’ve been running for the last 12 terms. And that’s a grassroots, to-the-people type deal,” Fitzhugh said. “I think I can get the message out. We have to show that it just doesn’t mean money to get elected.”

Fitzhugh is a small town banker and lawyer and a former captain in the U.S. Air Force, where he served in the Judge Advocate General Corps. He retired as a major in the Air Force Reserve. He holds both undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Republican state Sen. Mark Green of Ashland City this week became the first candidate to file paperwork allowing him to raise and spend money on his campaign.

Other potential GOP candidates include U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin, economic development commissioner Randy Boyd of Knoxville, state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

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