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Republicans in East Tennessee pick Diana Harshbarger as a successor for retiring GOP U.S. Rep. Phil Roe
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
NASHVILLE (CFP) — With the backing of President Donald Trump and the Republican establishment, Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. ambassador to Japan, has won his party’s nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee.
Hagerty took 51% in Thursday’s vote to 39% for Manny Sethi, a Nashville orthopedic trauma surgeon. He will now face Democrat Marquita Bradshaw, a Memphis environmental activist, in November’s general election.
Bradshaw, who spent less than $10,000 on her primary campaign, was the surprise winner of the Democratic primary over Nashville attorney James Mackler, who had raised more than $2 million for the race but could only muster a third-place finish.
Also in Thursday’s primary, Republicans in the 1st U.S. House District in East Tennessee picked Kingsport pharmacist Diana Harshbarger as their nominee to replace retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, making her a prohibitive favorite to win in November in the state’s most Republican district.
Hagerty, 60, a former private equity executive and state economic development official, left his post in Tokyo to pursue the Senate seat after incumbent U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander announced his retirement last summer.
He received an immediate endorsement from Trump, despite the fact that Hagerty had backed Trump rival Jeb Bush in the 2016 election and has a long association with 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, the only Republican senator to vote for Trump’s impeachment.
Speaking to supporters at a victory celebration in his hometown of Gallatin, Hagerty thanked Trump, who he said “had my back since before the beginning of this.”
“Thank you for being the inspiration for me, President Trump. I look forward to help you continue moving forward,” he said. “We’ve got to stand up to the radicals in Washington that want to push us off the cliff into socialism.”
Hagerty had put together a collection of disparate supporters that included not only Trump, his son Donald Jr., and Fox News host Sean Hannity, but also support from Bush, Romney and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Sethi countered with endorsements of his own from U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, along with conservative groups such as the Family Research Council, Gun Owners of America, and the anti-abortion Tennessee Heartbeat Coalition.
The race grew contentious and both men competed for the Trump mantle. Hagerty’s campaign branded Sethi as a “Never Trumper” and highlighted the fact that he was a finalist for a White House fellowship under former President Barack Obama; Sethi’s returned the favor by highlighting Hagerty’s ties to Romney and Bush.
Given that Tennessee hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years, Hagerty will be a heavy favorite in November against Bradshaw, who won her primary with 36% of the vote.
In the 1st District, which stretches from the Tri-Cities west toward Knoxville, the Republican primary to replace Roe turned into a 14-candidate free-for-all. Harshbarger won with 19%, followed by State Rep. Timothy Hill from Blountville at 17% and State Senator Rusty Crowe from Johnson City at 16%.
Because Tennessee does not have primary runoffs, Harshberg won with a plurality and will now face Democrat Blair Walsingham, a farmer from Hawkins County, in November.
The Republican nominee will be the prohibitive favorite in the state’s most Republican district, which the party has held continuously for 140 years.
In other races in Thursday’s primary, the two Democrats in the Volunteer State’s congressional delegation — U.S. Reps. Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis — both easily turned back primary challenges, although Cooper was held to 54%.
Uniquely among states, Tennessee holds its primary elections on Thursdays, rather than Tuesdays, although the general election in November will be held on a Tuesday as it is in the rest of the country.
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The fundraising leader in the race is Diana Harshbarger, a Kingsport pharmacist who has raised nearly $1.5 million. She’s followed by Josh Gapp, a Knoxville pathologist who had initially run in the Senate primary until Roe announced his retirement, and former Kingsport Mayor John Clark.
Cunningham of South Carolina and Spanberger of Virginia keep vow to oppose Pelosi; North Carolina’s 9th District remains vacant
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Seven Southern Democratic U.S. House freshmen who ousted GOP incumbents in November supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the gavel as speaker of the U.S. House — handing Republicans an issue to use against them in 2020.
Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida all supported Pelosi in the January 3 vote.
Two other freshmen Democrats who had vowed during their campaign that they would not support Pelosi — Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia — kept that promise, voting instead for Cheri Bustos of Illinois.
And despite signing a letter in November calling for new leadership in the House, Filemon Vela of Texas switched course to vote for Pelosi.
Meanwhile, as the new Congress convened in Washington with 29 new Southern members, one seat sat empty — the representative from North Carolina’s 9th District, where state elections officials have refused to certify Republican Mark Harris’s narrow win over Democrat Dan McCready amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
In the vote for speaker, just three Southern Democratic members did not support Pelosi — Cunningham and Spanberger, who voted for Bustos, and Jim Cooper of Tennessee, who voted present.
Cooper, who has been in Congress since 1983, had been a long-time opponent of Pelosi’s speakership, having voted against her five times previously.
After the November election, a group of 16 Democratic members, including Cooper, Cunningham and Vela, signed a letter calling for “new leadership” in the Democratic caucus.
Vela changed course after Pelosi agreed to support term limits for the House Democratic leadership, which will limit her speakership to no more than four years.
Pelosi needed a majority of the 430 votes cast for speaker. In the end, she got 220 votes, four more than necessary.
Of the seven Southern Democrats who ousted Republicans and voted for Pelosi, McBath, Horn and Luria represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016, while Allred and Fletcher represent districts he lost by less than 2 points.
Hillary Clinton carried Murcasel-Powell’s district in South Florida by 16 points and Wexton’s district in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. by 10 points.
Three other Southern Democratic newcomers who won open seats in November also supported Pelosi — Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia of Texas, and Donna Shalala of Florida. All three represent districts Clinton carried handily.
Among Southern Republicans, only three did not support their candidate for speaker, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
Walter Jones of North Carolina did not vote. He has been absent from Congress since September because of an undisclosed illness.
Of the 29 new Southern members of the House, 17 are Republicans and 12 are Democrats. Republicans hold 101 Southern seats, compared to 50 for Democrats, with North Carolina’s 9th District vacant.
The 9th District seat is likely to remain vacant until after the state elections board completes its investigation into the allegations of absentee ballot irregularities, which has been delayed until February because of a new law revamping the board.
Harris has filed a lawsuit seeking for force certification of the election.
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Four incoming freshmen have not taken a position on Pelosi’s tenure as Democratic leader
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — After an election season in which Republicans used the specter of Nancy Pelosi’s speakership as a weapon against their Democratic opponents, four Southern Democrats, including two incoming freshman, have signed on to an effort to replace her as Democratic leader.
Two incumbents — Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Filemon Vela of Texas — and one newcomer, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, are among 16 House members who signed a letter calling for “new leadership” in the Democratic caucus, which will take control of the House in January.
“Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-win districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington,” the letter said. “We promised to change the status quo, and we intent to deliver on that promise.”
The anti-Pelosi rebels said they would oppose her as speaker both in the vote in which Democrats will select a speaker candidate on November and on the House floor, where Pelosi will need a majority of 218 votes to defeat the Republicans’ expected candidate, Kevin McCarthy, in January.
Democrats are on track to have 234 seats in the new House, which means Pelosi can lose a maximum of 16 Democratic votes.
In addition to the three Southern Democrats who signed the letter, another incoming freshman, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, has said she will oppose Pelosi.
In an interview with CNN, Spanberger said that while she has “tremendous respect” for Pelosi, “one of the things that I talked about frequently on the campaign trail was the need to have new voices in Congress, the need to turn a new page in the way we engage across the aisle, and really to be able to work on the priorities that were most important to the people in my district.”
Four other incoming members — Colin Allred of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, and Elaine Luria of Virginia — have not taken a position on Pelosi’s speakership. All four narrowly won their races over Republican incumbents who highlighted their possible support for Pelosi in their campaigns.
The six remaining Southern Democratic freshmen — Veronica Escobar, Sylvia Garcia and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia — have all said they will support Pelosi.
Escobar and Garcia won open Democratic seats. Fletcher, Shalala, Mucarsel-Powell and Wexton flipped Republican seats.
Pelosi, 78, has represented San Francisco in the House since 1987 and has led House Democrats since 2002. She served as speaker from 2007 until 2011, the first woman to hold the post.
Her long tenure as leader — 16 years and counting — and her usefulness as a bogeyman for Republicans are driving the opposition to her, which is generally not a fight over policy or ideology.
However, the rebellion against Pelosi within the Democratic caucus is not widespread, including among Southern members. Only Cooper and Vela are opposing her; 116 other returning Southern Democratic members are expected to support her.
Cooper’s opposition is not a surprise. The Nashville Democrat, who has opposed Pelosi five times in the past, told The Tennessean that new Democratic members “won their districts by tiny margins and are in danger of losing in 2020 unless we prove to voters that we are working hard to get America back on track.”
Vela, from Brownsville, had supported Pelosi’s bid for Democratic leader after the 2016 election. But he called for her to step down after the party lost a high-profile special election in Georgia in 2017 in which Republicans relentlessly tied the Democratic candidate to her.
No one has so far stepped forward to run against Pelosi for Democratic leader. Given that party members are highly unlikely to vote for McCarthy on the floor, it remains unclear for whom the anti-Pelosi rebels might cast their votes.
One option would be to vote “present” instead of for another candidate, which would not imperil Pelosi because she only has to win a majority of those members actually voting. However, in their letter, her opponents said they were “committed to voting for new leadership both in our Caucus meeting and on the House floor.”
Should Pelosi survive, the lone Southerner in the House Democratic leadership, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, is expected to become the House majority whip, the No. 3 position. He is currently the only candidate for the position.
Should Pelosi be unable to secure a majority for the speakership, the scramble to replace her could upset the entire Democratic hierarchy in the House.
Pop star and longtime Tennessee resident endorses Marsha Blackburn’s Democratic rival, says her record “appalls and terrifies me”
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
NASHVILLE (CFP) — Pop icon and Tennessee resident Taylor Swift has taken to Instagram to offer a rare political endorsement of two Democratic congressional candidates — and send a bit of bad blood in the direction of Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is seeking an open U.S. Senate seat.
“Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me,” Swift wrote of Blackburn in an October 7 Instagram post. “She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape.”
“She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values.”
While Blackburn’s campaign did not offer immediate reaction to Swift’s broadside, the National Republican Senatorial Committee characterized her in a statement as a “multimillionaire pop star” who “came down from her ivory tower to tell hardworking Tennesseans” how to vote.
President Donald Trump reacted to her Instagram post by telling reporters, “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now, OK?”
“I’m sure Taylor Swift has nothing or doesn’t know anything about (Blackburn),” he said.
Swift, 28, has lived in Tennessee for the past 14 years, after moving to the Nashville area with her parents at age 14 to pursue a music career.
Criticized in the past for refusing to get involved politically, she directly endorsed two candidates — Blackburn’s Democratic opponent, former Governor Phil Bredesen, and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who holds a safely Democratic seat in metro Nashville.
Bredensen took to Twitter to say he was “honored” to get Swift’s support — and taunt Blackburn using the title of one of Swift’s recent hits: “@VoteMarsha, look what you made her do. @taylorswift13 doesn’t like your little games and she wants Tennesseans to know that you’ve been in the swamp long enough. It’s time for some fresh air up in Washington.”
In her Instagram post, Swift said she decided to get involved in the campaign “due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years.”
“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she said. “I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love.”
Recent public polls show the Senate race between Blackburn and Bredesen within the margin of error, a surprisingly competitive race in a state where Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in 12 years or a Senate seat in 28 years.
Cooper is considered a prohibitive favorite in the 5th District U.S. House race over Republican Jody Ball. He has represented the district, which includes Davidson, Dickson and Cheatham counties, since 2003.