To be sure, Bredesen wasn't just playing the good ol' boy manqué--he talked issues as well. But, what he realized is that, in the South, people won't listen to you on the issues until they are comfortable with you as a person. Or, as Brunson puts it, "Southern voters go through a two-step process. The first is a credentialing filter, which asks if a candidate shares their values. The second is on issues--education, health care, the economy. Bredesen understands you have to go through step one before you even start step two."
Bredesen actively appealed to Republican politicians and voters as well. "Here was a man who was willing to call Republican leaders in a county and say, 'You may not vote for me, but I'd like to pick your brain and share ideas,'" says his 2002 campaign manager, Stuart Brunson. It paid off: Bredesen brought in $22,000 from the Frist family, perhaps the state's leading GOP clan (Senator Bill Frist did not contribute). Even Ted Welch, a Bush "pioneer" and a Republican heavyweight, has nothing but praise for Bredesen. "I admire him," he says. "He will consider both sides and then pull the trigger."
Bredesen's ability to play both the number-cruncher and the small-town boy done good explains his high approval ratings, numbers he has achieved even while embarking on a decidedly unglamorous agenda, cutting the deficit and tackling TennCare. In fact, he seems to be so well-liked that voters trust him to make the right decision, regardless of whether they like the results.