Fundraiser raising questions about gubernatorial resolve

Lt. Gov.'s PAC fundraiser has many wondering how serious he is about race to succeed Bredesen -- UPDATED with comments from Ramsey

UPDATE 11:05 a.m. – Ramsey called in from the road in West Tennessee, where he's campaigning all day. The Lieutenant Governor said he’s very committed to the race to replace Gov. Bredesen. Addressing the RAAMPAC event, he said the committee's coffers are running low and that – no matter what office he holds – he always wants to keep it properly funded. He did add that, if people only have so much money to give, he would prefer they donate to his campaign rather than RAAMPAC.

As originally reported:

The political action committee controlled by Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is doing what it does best, raising money. But its efforts are raising questions among Republican donors as to how committed Ramsey is in the race to become governor in 2010.

RAAMPAC, Ramsey's political action committee since 2004, is having a "Holiday Reception" in Nashville during Thanksgiving week and is asking for donations of either $1,000 to attend or donate/raise $5,000 to attend and participate in a four-course "Host Dinner."

While political fundraisers are common this time of year, the fact that Ramsey is raising funds for his PAC and not his gubernatorial campaign has some potential Republican donors scratching their heads.

"RAAMPAC" stands for "Republicans Achieving A Majority PAC" and during its existence has achieved just that. Since the PAC was formed, the GOP has taken control of the Tennessee State Senate and has a numerical majority in the Tennessee State House.

The PAC has disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party and candidates and has been a veritable engine of the GOP takeover of the state legislature.

As the PAC has succeeded, so has Ramsey. It has propelled him not only to the office of Lieutenant Governor, but also as an early front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010. It took a lot of cash to get this far and it will take more for Ramsey to go even further.

Much discussion has occurred over the financial disparity that seems to be developing in the GOP primary. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam has a sizable fundraising advantage, having raised close to $4 million dollars as of the last required reporting period.

Ramsey and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp each raised more than $1 million in the last reporting period, with Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons falling into last place in the fund-raising race. He did not break the seven-figure threshold.

All of the candidates not named Haslam have said that they will raise enough campaign money to compete with the Knoxville mayor – just don't expect them to catch him or his personal fortune. That being said, they will still need every dime they can get.

Considering all of that, Ramsey is the only GOP candidate whose window to raise money is closing. When the state legislature reconvenes in January, he is barred by state law as a member of the legislature from accepting any campaign donations while they are in session.

The questions being asked by GOP donors center on that finite amount of time to raise money and the finite amount of money available. Why, they ask, is Ramsey raising money for his PAC instead of his gubernatorial bid?

Attempts to reach several members of Team Ramsey, be they associated with the PAC or his campaign, were unsuccessful at the time of publication of this article.

GOP donors who spoke with said that they still support Ramsey, but just aren't sure where it is best to send the check.